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Blue Ribbon panel's frustration reflects public's

Several members of the Blue Ribbon Committee are perplexed. And frustrated. And impatient.

Good.

At their meeting on Wednesday, members of the citizens group complained that the school system that asked them to look into the botched Homosassa Elementary School construction project now seems to be standing in their way.

Terrific.

One exasperated member suggested that a request be sent to district officials asking: Please provide us the people and the records that you asked us to interview and examine.

Another lamented the time and energy that she is spending beating on locked doors. A third asked rhetorically, "They (the district) want us on their side. Why are they not cooperating?"

Wonderful.

Why?

Because at last, this important group of citizens is beginning to express the kind of frustration and anger that many others in the community have felt since this construction scandal came to light last spring.

It is not that the Blue Ribbon members did not share those feelings before now. Indeed, a sense of outrage is what led these individuals to volunteer their time and talents to this worthy effort.

But, with one or two exceptions, the committee members have been reluctant to criticize the district, at least during their meetings.

They have been polite and deferential, making accommodations in records requests and personnel interviews. They have been steadfast in saying they will not blame anyone for the Homosassa foulups but will only recommend ways for the district to improve its construction processes.

Maybe it was simply a momentary outburst of candor, but with Wednesday's grousing about the lack of cooperation from the district, the tenor seems to be changing.

Talk around the table featured complaints about lack of access to key figures and delays in getting requested documents.

Members also recognized that they will have to point fingers at key administration officials who failed to perform their duties, even if that means identifying the positions rather than the people who hold them.

Besides, as one member noted, this is part of what the School Board asked them to do when the committee was formed.

In a further acknowledgement of the scope of their mission, the committee chose to focus on what remains a burning question in this entire episode: Where is the steel?

Records seem to show that some of the supporting steel rods that the district paid for but that were not put into the walls at the two buildings under construction may have been delivered to the contractor's Sumter County property instead of the school site.

One committee member continues to insist that the steel is within the walls of the buildings, just not where it was intended to go. Those rods plus the steel that the contractor has been forced to put into the walls will make this the safest school building in the county, he maintains.

This assumes that the steel rods are, in fact, in the walls. There is absolutely no evidence to support that assumption since the company that tested the walls only determined where the steel was missing, not where it was wrongly placed.

Another committee member offered to try to arrange a test of the walls to find the steel, gaining support from colleagues who grasp that this is an important question in the public's mind.

It is still unlikely that the committee's final report will be the sort of comprehensive investigation that the public expects or deserves, but the frustration that seems to be sweeping over several committee members may give the report the sharper edge that is needed.

Outstanding.

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