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Sauer defends his county board role amid recall threat
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DARLINGTON - Jack Sauer, incumbent District 3 county board member and board chairman, addressed accusations that led to his facing an upcoming recall election during a candidates forum here Wednesday.

He is being challenged in the recall race by George Hirsbrunner, a retired farmer.

Among the accusations against Sauer, listed in a recall petition: Department heads under his tenure not following county hiring and firing practices; the county board's alleged violations of open meeting laws; and Sauer's position on closing the county nursing home.

Sauer vigorously denied the accusations, and said he personally would "enjoy" having an ethics board review actions at county board meetings for which he's being criticized.

"I don't know what those are, but I'd like to know so I can defend myself," he said.

Both Sauer and Hirsbrunner said they favored the idea of creating an ethics board at the county level.

The candidates disagreed on who is most responsible for hiring and firing employees. Hirsbrunner said he believed department administrators should bring such decisions to the board.

"One person cannot make the decision; it has to be a group," he said.

But Sauer said administrators are hired for their expertise and work on a daily basis with the employees.

"I don't work hands-on with employees everyday - administrators do. They make the big bucks, and they can make the decision," he said.

Hirsbrunner stated his desire for the county to have a "state-of-the-art" hospital, police department and nursing home, but came under fire, especially from farmers, when he said he may favor raising property taxes to support those entities.

The biggest issue facing county voters, according to Hirsbrunner, is that the nursing home, the hospital and the police department are over budget. Taxes are determined and levied the same way as 60 years ago, he added.

"Our tax structure is obsolete," he said. "It's going to hurt my pocketbook, but we've got to have this stuff. We've got to pay for it. We're going to have to cut and it's going to be hard."

Hirsbrunner said he "maybe" would favor raising property taxes, but added that "there are other ways of creating more taxes."

Hirsbrunner also said he favors increasing the number of patients at the nursing home to make it profitable, without additional budget cuts.

Sauer said the "money crunch" has always been a problem for the county and taxes remain higher, particularly on buildings, even though the board has "made the hard choice" to cut some items from the budget.

"But we still have mandates from the state" that have to be paid for, he said.

Sauer also explained that the county has already implemented a half-cent sales taxes, the maximum allowed by the state, and now officials can't tax more for property, which has been capped by the state. Increases in property tax revenue is limited to an increase in new construction, he added.

"We can't raise the taxes; we can't change the taxes," he said.

Sauer addressed, individually, each allegation that arose in questions, which were submitted prior to the forum. Problems between employees and supervisors are often personal and personality driven, he said. The hospital has violated the county hiring process 17 times, he said, yet the hospital committee stands behind its administrator, he said.

Sauer said no open meetings laws were ever violated, to his knowledge, and agendas are written with specific state statues referenced.

Sauer said he did ask a board member not to attend a meeting once, after being advised that the member was not needed and would cost the county money unnecessarily, Sauer said. But that decision was probably not a good one, he said Thursday.

When state or federal laws come into play, the county has a corporate counsel and a labor attorney to advise the board, Sauer said.

"We're not experts on the board," Sauer said. "That's why we have them."