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Big TVs reveal big problem

Oct. 26, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

That is a line from the movie, “Cool Hand Luke.” In the movie, the line referred to a communications breakdown between a prisoner and a warden.

In the current context, it refers to a communications breakdown between the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the state’s taxpayers.

The news that provoked this line of thinking is the announcement that Governor Tim Pawlenty ordered 25 50-inch flat screen televisions removed from a Minnesota sex offender treatment facility in Moose Lake.

In describing how the televisions were purchased in the first place, the governor said someone made “a bonehead decision.”

While we admire the governor’s candor, it seems that describing this as a bonehead decision is somehow inadequate.

When I first heard the news report, several more colorful descriptions came to mind, but none of these were suitable for publication in a community newspaper. Perhaps the governor had the same problem.

A couple of questions present themselves. The first thing one might wonder is, “Who made the decision to purchase these televisions?” The second thing that sparks the curiosity is, “Who approved the expenditure?”

Each of the televisions cost $1,576, plus $706 for a mounting bracket. By my calculations, this brings the total purchase price to $57,050.

One would hope that those who are in charge of spending our hard-earned tax dollars would have some qualifications and some oversight.

It appears that if there was any oversight in the Moose Lake sex offender facility, it was left in the charge of an unusually dim-witted specimen.

People across the state are struggling to make ends meet during these disastrous economic times, and yet the Department of Human Services is blundering along like a herd of short-sighted hippopotami, spending money like drunken mariners, trying to make sure that these sex offenders are treated like royalty.

One assumes that the department does a lot of good work, and probably acts responsibly in most instances, but what in the Sam Hill happened in this case?

It has been reported that Dennis Benson, executive director of the sex offender treatment program, told the Star Tribune that the TVs have “clinical value” because patients can be watched to see how they respond to what is on TV.

What I want to know is why in the name of common sense do we care how they react?

The same story reported that “No one has ever been released from the program, which costs $328 per day per patient.”

That means taxpayers are forking over $119,720 annually per sex offender to keep them in this luxury facility.

There are currently 215 “patients” in the sex offender program housed in the facility where the televisions were purchased, and 325 housed in two other Minnesota facilities.

According to the Associated Press, the “patients” in this program are people the courts have deemed “dangerous and likely to commit new sex crimes.”

If they are never getting out, why do we care how they react to television programs?

Even if one accepts the argument that these offenders need access to television, they certainly don’t need 50-inch plasma models. How many of the taxpayers who are paying the bills have TVs like this?

Lawmakers approved emergency funding for the sex offender program earlier this year, without knowledge of the televisions.

It has further been reported that this situation is not likely to affect the Department of Human Services request for another $96 million to expand the Moose Lake facility.

It seems that the people who are running the show over at the department need to get out more.

They clearly have not received the message that taxpayers are sick and tired of having their tax dollars wasted.

The message that honest law-abiding citizens are struggling has not made it through the thick skulls of those who are in charge of housing the sex offenders. If it had, they would not be treating the offenders like rock stars.

This is a major breakdown in the system, and should be an embarrassment to everyone up the chain of command, from the fathead who thought big screen TVs for sex offenders was a good idea all the way up through those who approved the expenditure.

We have obviously had a failure to communicate, so let’s make this clear to anyone who is involved in spending public money: we, the taxpayers, are tired of having our money wasted, and it needs to stop.

The governor has ordered that the big screen TVs be removed and sold, and replaced with smaller units, so some of the money will be recovered.

One can’t help but wonder what other excesses exist within the system that have not yet been discovered.

Maybe an oversight panel made up of ordinary taxpayers ought to look at the department’s bills before they are approved.

The working people of Minnesota wouldn’t have to think too long to determine what makes sense in public facilities. One thing is certain; 50-inch plasma TVs wouldn’t make the list.