Archive for Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Scout’s honor

The person who caused the mercury spill at a local elementary school needs to do the honorable thing and pay for the damage.

January 27, 2004

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"Be prepared" is the official motto of the Boy Scouts of America, but no one apparently is prepared to take responsibility for a Friday night incident before the annual Pinewood Derby that may end up costing Lawrence taxpayers $5,000.

In an effort to give his son an edge in the Cub Scout competition, a local father reportedly placed a vial of mercury in the boy's wooden racer to give the car additional weight. When the car crashed, the vial broke and released mercury on the floor of the race site, Quail Run School. Because mercury is a toxic substance, the race was halted and the cleanup began. School officials were able to find professionals qualified to handle the mercury spill on a Saturday afternoon. That allowed school to go on as scheduled Monday, but it resulted in a $5,000 bill to the school district.

What should happen, but hadn't happened by midday Monday, is for the father who caused this mess to come forward and pay for the cleanup. In true Boy Scout spirit, this would be the honorable thing to do. If that doesn't happen, the local Boy Scouts should see what they can do to raise the money to cover the cleanup costs. It might require regional or national Boy Scout organizations to chip in, but, again, it would be the right thing to do.

The wrong thing would be to leave the school district and local taxpayers holding the bill. The schools are public buildings and should be available for public events like the Pinewood Derby, but the district may be forced to close its doors to such gatherings because of the liability connected to them. In tight financial times, the school district shouldn't be expected to cough up $5,000 to cover damage from an event not sponsored by the schools.

It's hard to imagine what this father was thinking when he added the mercury vial to his son's car. Whatever it was, it seems to bear no relation to the kind of healthy, fun competition the Pinewood Derby is supposed to represent. This incident is so dumb, it's almost a little funny, but the bottom line is that the mercury posed a potential danger as well as unnecessary expense to the public.

It sounds as if the people attending the Pinewood Derby scattered from the scene much like a bunch of errant boys who just hit a baseball through the neighbor's window. There surely are a number of people aware of the culprit's identity, but no one has come forward.

Sure, it will be embarrassing, perhaps even a bit humiliating for the father to accept responsibility for his mistake. But, Scout's honor, it's the right thing to do.

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