A large group of citizens attended the most recent meeting of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors held on Tuesday, May 19 in order to express their feelings on several decisions made by the board within the past several months.
Emotions and feelings were running high as several citizens spoke during the public comment time at the beginning of the meeting.
Suzi Osterday, director of the Darlington Chamber/Main Street program, applied to be on the agenda and spoke on how the community and the chamber had been disappointed lately with the actions and decisions of the county board, specifically mentioning the upcoming discontinuation of labor and delivery services at Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County (MHLC); the county’s decision to move the human services department out of the city building and into the recently purchased former Jafari Building on the outskirts of town; as well as the possible implementation of the wheel tax (which was later tabled during the meeting).
Osterday noted that the community felt that these decisions were made without explanation or notice to the community and without consideration of what those decisions would mean for the area.
Julie Chikowski, administrator of MHLC, who was present at the meeting attempted to explain the decision behind the closing of the hospital’s labor and delivery service, and also noted that the topic had been on the hospital’s agenda for several months and that the committee always welcomes public input.
“The hospital is also a business and we want to be successful,” said Chikowski who noted that the number of births in recent years at the hospital were not conducive to continuing those services safely.
When citizens protested that the hospital had been delivering babies for many years and had appeared to do a good job so far, Chikowski noted that just because that’s the way things have always been done, doesn’t mean that is the best way to continue, taking into consideration the safety of patients and financial strains of the county.
Chikowski expressed frustration that the community only noted cuts and decreases in services at the hospital when there are other areas of the hospital that are growing and succeeding.
County board members noted that the decision had come from the recommendation of the hospital committee, Chikowski and several other hospital professionals who felt that the decision was the best course of action at this time.
“It’s sad, but I don’t see there being a huge influx of people of childbearing age to Darlington or Lafayette County now or in the future,” said county board chairman Jack Sauer.
Tony Ruesga, Darlington citizen, also stated that the perception among many Darlington citizens was that the county board has recently been making decisions that will negatively affect the city of Darlington, including the decision to move the county’s human services department out of the Darlington Municipal Building and across town into a building recently purchased by the county.
Sauer responded to those concerns by asking the audience if they were renting a house and had the opportunity to buy it, would they continue to rent or invest in a property they could call their own? Sauer also noted that in the long run the county will benefit from owning their own building, and while it may not benefit the city of Darlington in particular, it will end up being a benefit for the majority of the county’s citizens.
When Ruesga asked for proof of those statements and why a study wasn’t completed to look into those results, Sauer became combative, shouting, “We don’t need to spend money on a study, I know the numbers because I have a calculator.”
When Ruesga attempted to further his argument, Sauer cut him off, aggressively banging the gavel and saying, “I didn’t ask you to speak, I allowed you to and I don’t need you coming in here and talking about how smart you are.”
Thus, the public comment period of the meeting was ended.