Like a tale out of a pulp novel, heres a headline for a story out of my life at the paper: Now it can be told.
I almost left this place a little over a year ago. If Id said yes to a local job offer, someone else would have been sitting in my huge new office at The News-Times swanky new headquarters in Evans.
Me? Id be raking in a hefty salary, and right now Id also be enjoying an extended, paid vacation.
Sounds good, huh? The price for succumbing to that vision, however, would have been continuing to see my name in the paper but not quite in the same context as it is now.
All of us have seen the recent Chronicle stories about problems at the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia. The latest news reveals red flags about financial management of the state-contract facility. An audit finds Community Mental Health contractors received fat bonuses with little documentation or justification. Those contractors, the investigation demonstrates, were mostly a select few insiders.
There but for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes. Just over a year ago, I was contacted and offered a contract as one of those insiders.
Specifically, they wanted me to take a big-bucks job as communications director for Community Mental Health. After a few agonizing days, I turned them and the money down. My gut told me that my job would not have been to help improve a facility with poor communications and a bad reputation; instead, it would have been my task to make it all look better while the underlying problems continued.
In other words, they wanted someone to pour perfume on a hog. I decided I was the wrong guy.
When I said no, they instead hired Jim Points, who at the time was the chairman of the Community Service Board that oversees Com-munity Mental Health. Thank God, Im still here.
Points, a former member of the Columbia County Board of Education, now has the title of administrator, and according to recent stories is paid $126,000 a year (more than they were offering me, by the way). Along with Executive Director Mike Brockman, Points is on administrative leave with pay while state officials investigate a whistleblowers allegations of financial improprieties and mismanagement at the health center.
That administrative leave is the extended vacation that I would have been enjoying had I said yes to their offer of a three-year contract. Id sure like to be able to take some leisurely time off, but not under those circumstances.
My decision looks a lot better with 20-20 hindsight, though at the time it was tough. Who can say no to a lot more money especially with a three-year guarantee, at a time when virtually nothing in the working world is assured?
Fortunately, I did. While I dont know the details of the investigation, or much about what has really been going on at Community Mental Health, I do know that I stayed right where I needed to be and that Im exactly where I want to be.
Thanks to visitors
Where I am is at The News-Times new office on Washington Road in the Publix shopping center. We held our open house last week, and really appreciate all the folks who stopped by.
And while we gave away lots of neat stuff, what we received was even better. Flowers by Monty and Fat Mans West sent nice plants, and McDuffie County had Martinas Flowers and Gifts send an arrangements. Best of all, our visitors gave money to Operation Comfort to help support deployed soldiers and their families.
In times like these, receiving is just as nice as giving. Thanks to everyone. And if you couldnt make it to the open house, come by and see us sometime. Ill even show off my big office.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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