Friday, October 8, 2010
by Diane Dimond
Could it be a trend? Oh, please tell me it’s a trend.
There seems to be a mini-movement underway of disgruntled taxpayers and law enforcement officials intent on sweeping out the bums who play-act at being our political leaders while lining their own pockets.
You may have already heard about the situation in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell, California, where eight current and past city leaders were arrested and charged with illegally awarding themselves exorbitant salaries and misappropriating public funds. When filing the charges District Attorney Steve Cooley called it a case of “corruption on steroids.”
The scandal erupted when private citizens of that working-class suburb began to show up at public meetings and demand accountability. The drumbeat got loud enough that the law moved in, arrested the eight and made sure they’d never hold political office again. How bad was it? The city manager of Bell, where one in six residents lives in poverty, was “earning” nearly $800,000 a year, twice President Obama’s salary! And even though Robert Rizzo was forced to resign, he’s still in line to draw a pension as high as $880,000 a year!
So, Attorney General Jerry Brown announced his office is suing to try and stop Rizzo’s outrageous pension, along with the excess salaries of all the city leaders. These announcements were met with bursts of cheers and tears by local residents who realized firsthand what community involvement could achieve.
Three thousand miles away, in North Providence, Rhode Island, there is a similar public corruption scandal unfolding--again spurred by angry citizens who said, in effect, were mad as hell and just weren’t going to take it anymore.
In the Rhode Island case, three city council members were forced to resign after a federal indictment reported they had demanded and split a $25,000 bribe to change zoning laws for a supermarket developer. But after U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha announced the charges--and called for anyone with knowledge of other bribery demands to come forward--they did. Citizens exhausted by the stink of corruption in their Rhode Island community reportedly told authorities about other demands the political trio had made, and the councilmen were slapped with more extortion, bribery and conspiracy charges. Two others, a local developer and an attorney, were also charged for acting as middlemen in the illegal demand for more than $100,000 in bribes. There’s an indication that one of the fed-up residents was a fellow city council member who volunteered to wear a wire to help investigators gather evidence. More charges could be on the way as more brave residents come forward to report on similar shakedowns.
In Cleveland, Ohio, the FBI began investigating citizen complaints and the resulting public corruption scandal has already resulted in three dozen guilty pleas. Just last month, the feds charged eight public officials, including Cuyahoga County commissioner Jimmy Dimora and two county judges, in a pay-for-play scheme that allegedly traded jobs for bribes and campaign donations. The FBI says, for example, that Dimora got jobs for people and in exchange he received call girl sex, fancy steakhouse meals, four-figure discounts on a Rolex watch, a gambling trip to Vegas, and free improvements on his home. After this latest round of arrests one jubilant voter showed up at the county building wearing an FBI T-shirt and carrying a sign that she’d made that read, simply: "Thanks, FBI!"
“People are overjoyed,” Rachel Manias told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I feel like we can move forward with honest government. We have a real fresh slate.”
Look, most public officials are honest, hard working and keep the best interests of their community in mind. But there are some who don’t think twice before violating the public trust. It might be a border official who takes cash in exchange for letting an un-inspected truck through a border crossing or a building inspector who looks the other way at a construction site’s bad wiring. What if that truck carried a weapon of mass destruction or that building later had a deadly fire? There are culpable people on both sides of this type equation--those who take the payoff and those of our neighbors who give it. And with every act of corruption the public’s trust in government erodes that much more. The FBI says it is determined to hold corrupt public officials accountable but the Bureau needs our help.
Let’s face it, rotten politicians and public officials thrive when we ignore what they do. They fail when we are active in our neighborhoods, when we go to public meetings, when the media shines the white-hot spotlight on their actions and when we show up at the polls to vote out the bums. They fail when citizens are courageous enough to go to authorities and report their dishonesty. In other words, public corruption exists only when we let it.
Let’s not let it anymore. Let’s all be brave.