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Excuses, excuses

  • Thursday, January 2, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, Jody Barr at WIS-TV interviewed me on a story he was working on about new furniture for members of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Barr happened to notice furniture being hauled in and out of the Blatt building (the office building adjacent to the State House) and he followed up to find out why. It turns out the House spent $1.56 million to re-furnish members’ offices and committee rooms – which they use three days a week, six months a year.

It’s bad enough that the House has “surplus” funds totaling $16 million. Take a look at Barr’s story for yourself. With the exception of a couple of chairs and a desk or two, most of it looked in pretty good shape to me!

But not according to the House staffer who prepared the “Fact Sheet” on why the furniture had to be replaced (furnished to Barr after he started asking questions). It isn’t simply that the furniture purportedly is 30 years old and has had to be repaired many times (although staff said they don’t keep records of the repair requests). No, the main reason the furniture had to be replaced was because it was – well – dangerous. That’s right. Our brave men and women in the House of Representatives were forced to serve the people under the harrowing threat of credenzas that – I’m quoting the fact sheet – “were falling on people.”

I don’t want to know how a credenza broke and fell on someone. If that happened, it would make sense to replace it. But did all of it need replacing?

According to the fact sheet, this furniture problem had reached a red-alert level. The furniture had become a “Safety Hazard.”

Furniture is continually breaking, cannot be properly fixed and in some cases can be dangerous.

Furthermore – and this is shocking – the House furniture is “not up to code.” Apparently that furniture violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, OSHA regulations, and even ASNI and BIFNA standards! If you haven’t heard of those last two, they stand for American National Standards Institute and Business Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association.

The fact sheet went on to point out that the furniture “Does Not Serve Today’s Public Office Needs.”

After 34 years, much in the office world has changed. While the Blatt Building conference rooms have entered the 20th Century, now equip [sic] to live-stream hearings over the Internet, the current furniture was constructed around the use of typewriters as well as many other outdated technologies.

I’ll assume the writer meant to say the Blatt conference rooms have entered the twenty-first century rather than just now hitting the twentieth. Anyhow, the fact sheet goes on to say that the House Operations Committee went through a “thorough and thoughtful process” to reach the unanimous decision to replace the furniture. “With replacement/repair options no longer available and safety issues paramount,” the Committee went to work negotiating a great deal for the taxpayers to get the furniture for $1.56 million instead of the $2 million budgeted!

But the cost isn’t the worst part of this story. What happened to the furniture? Surely the dangerous – apparently illegal – furniture was destroyed, right? Nope. Barr was told the furniture was sent to the state surplus warehouse, where it will now be sold to other agencies and the public!

So furniture too dangerous for part-time House members is apparently good enough for other state employees who work full-time, and good enough for citizens who are shopping for discounted furniture for their own businesses or homes. I really hope those dangerous credenzas don’t end up in a home office with children around.

Seriously, either all the furniture is potentially dangerous – in which case it shouldn’t be sold to other state employees or citizens – or the House just wanted new furniture and had staffers come up with excuses for buying it. Either way, House leaders should come clean and tell what is likely the real story: the furniture was old and and they didn’t like it. That might have irritated taxpayers, who are rightly tired of the “let them eat cake” attitude our elected officials have toward the public, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad as saying the furniture is too dangerous for them but not for the rest of us.

Barr’s story was on WIS-TV last week, with more of the reasons every House office was re-furnished. It showed pictures of the old furniture – you can be the judge of whether it needed replacing.

— Ashley Landess

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