Time to say, ‘The buck stops here’


Where’s Harry Truman when you need him?

America’s 33rd president wasn’t afraid to take responsibility or to admit mistakes when things went wrong. He famously kept a sign on his desk that read “The buck stops here.”

According to the website of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, the phrase dates to poker games played in the old West.

“The saying, ‘the buck stops here,’ derives from the slang expression, ‘pass the buck,’ which means passing the responsibility on to someone else,” the website says. “The latter expression is said to have originated with the game of poker, in which a marker or counter, frequently in frontier days a knife with a buckhorn handle, was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal, he could pass the responsibility by passing the ‘buck,’ as the counter came to be called, to the next player.”

But sometimes, passing the buck is not a game.

In Lockington, a family was given a major runaround in trying to get reparation for broken sewage pipes. That’s because at least two state agencies and their private contractors would rather point fingers at each other and deny responsibility than do what’s right.

In 2013, after more than 30 years of hoping and eight years of planning, politicking and fund-raising, the restoration of Lock No. 1 in Lockington began. The project cost $2.5 million and was managed by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). The owner of the site is the Ohio History Connection (OHC).

During the restoration, dump trucks carried tons of excavated dirt to a field about a block away from the lock. The heavy dirt was dumped into the field. Sewage pipes that were buried in the field broke as a result of the weight of the dirt and/or the trucks running over them.

The pipes were the conduit for sewage from a house across the street from the field and the sewage began to come up above ground. The field was not owned by the people who own the house, the Nash family, but by an elderly couple living next to the field. When the Nashes tried to get Lock No. 1 restorers to fix the damage their project caused, the various agencies and firms denied responsibility. They passed the buck.

As the Sidney Daily News reported Monday, the Nashes were finally forced to rent equipment and fix the pipes or be evicted from their home, which was about to be condemned because of the sewer leaks.

ODOT, OHC and their contractors claimed there was not definitive proof that dumping from the Lock No. 1 project had caused any damage.

An OHC representative, speaking for ODOT as well, blamed the contractor, the Spieker Co., who hired the trucks that transported and dumped the dirt. The writer claimed he was looking out for taxpayer money by needing “absolute proof.”

A Spieker representative phoned the Daily News Monday to point out some of the good, non-project things the company had done in Lockington during the lock restoration, including digging a giant hole in which the Lockington Volunteer Fire Department buried a 30,000-gallon water tank. He seemed to be trying to excuse what was done wrong by turning focus in another direction.

We’re all for altruism. We think it’s great that “extra” civic projects could be accomplished during the lock project. We wonder why fixing Nash’s pipes couldn’t be one of them.

And we have several questions:

• The dumping was going to occur in a residential area. Did the dumping company do any research to find out whether there were pipes under the field where it planned to run its heavy trucks and dump tons of earth? If not, why not? If so, did they investigate what effect their work might have had on those pipes?

• OHC said in its email to Nash, “The Spieker Company was looking for a place to put the dirt and Mr. Gilmore (the neighbor) let them put it over your sewer. In other words, OHC and ODOT had no control over what happened to your sewer.” So, when OHC and ODOT manage projects, they don’t look at what the ramifications might be of decisions made by the companies they hire with taxpayer money to do the work? Does that mean anything goes? That could be good news for firms making bids on future projects. Those firms can do whatever they want to bring costs down and win the bid whether what they do will be safe or not for residents in the areas of the projects. We’re not sure, however, that the “no control” claim holds water (or sewage). Various superfund sites come to mind … but that’s another story.

• How much of the $2.5 million spent to restore Lock No. 1 was spent on those extra civic projects? Were those projects a case of “We have all this money. We don’t need it all for the lock, so let’s use some of it to help someone else.”? If that’s the case, who got to decide which someone elses would be helped and why did they have the authority to make the decision?

Because the Nashes replaced the pipes themselves, they did the work as economically as they could. They rented a piece of equipment for just one day, dug a trench and installed the new piece of pipe. Their total cost? $250, not including their time. $250.

On a $2.5 million project, one that included doing “extra” work, ODOT can’t find $250 to repay the Nashes because definitive proof can’t be provided that it was their contractor who broke the pipes. Because, as the OHC rep said, “they’re responsible for taxpayer money.”

Really?

We bet that if all the taxpayers in Shelby County were polled, there would be darn few who would begrudge that $250 reimbursement.

“The whole thing doesn’t make much sense to me,” Nash told the Daily News. “I will have a thing or two to say when phase two and three of this project come around and I hope that this raises concern in my neighbors the next time. This could all have easily happened to one of them.”

We think the Ohio Department of Transportation could learn a thing of two from Truman. If ODOT managed the project, then the buck stopped there.

Sometimes, you do something just because it’s the right thing to do. ODOT, stop pointing fingers and trying to duck responsibility. Write a $250 check now to Stacy Nash.

And if you get the grant you’re applying for to fund Phase 2 of this restoration project, learn from your mistakes: ask the questions — all the questions — and think before you act.