DETROIT - Metro Detroit continues reeling from it economic winter of the past decade. Pontiac is under an Emergency Manager and the beleaguered city's assets are all for sale, if anyone wants them.
The City of Detroit is about to start negotiating a Consent agreement with the State. Despite all efforts to save it, the city decays on a daily basis. Teen violence careens out of control. Wayne County is larded down with debt, its well known Executive Robert Ficano fighting to keep his job, and his deputies continue getting the serious once over by the FBI.
I list these in this order because if those problems weren't bad enough, a parade of public servants made appearances at arraignments at the Federal Courthouse today causing taxpayers to wonder what kind of leadership they have elected. It was a decidedly unhappy parade, public executives and political appointees from all three places doing the federal indictment "perp-walk".
Jumanne Sledge, former Deputy School Superintendent charged with fraud and theft after allegedly stealing a quarter of a million dollars in school funds and spending the money on himself. The Feds seized his 2002 Jaguar and a $35,000 bank account. He pled not guilty but is looking at a couple of decades in prison if convicted. He didn't have much to say after leaving the courthouse on $50,000 unsecured bond. Remember though, this guy's job was to oversee the education of poor children in a desperately poor city. What's more, he quit that job and took another high paying position with another Metro Detroit School District, his superiors apparently happy with his performance. One wonders about the oversight there.
Then there is case of "the usual suspects". Kwame Kilpatrick's now largely discredited administration offers up yet another "Friend of Kwame" for scrutiny and perhaps three hots and a cot. Former Detroit City Treasurer and Kilpatrick fraternity brother Jeffrey Beasley indicted on charges of stealing from and taking kickbacks for bringing business to Detroit's City and Police and Fire Pensions. Beasley sat on the pension board, and is alleged to have lived the high life by selling his influence. He brought a number of companies before the pension boards and convinced their managers to put $200 million dollars into the companies he allegedly extorted. The pension funds lost nearly $100 million on those investments. Beasley could spend a generation in jail if found guilty. He pled not guilty today and is out on a mere $10,000 unsecured bond. One might wonder about the management he reported to, but then again that story has been told over and over again. It's known now as the Kilpatrick Criminal Enterprise."
Finally we get to Wayne County. Michael Grundy, former Assistant County Executive and chief executive of the HealthChoice insurance program pled not guilty to a 25 count indictment of fraud and other charges. He allegedly defrauded the healthcare insurance program for Wayne County's poor by doing things like overcharging affiliated programs for radio and television advertising and then pocketing the extra cash. He's also alleged to have purchased voting lists with some of that money as he was a valuable political activist for Ficano before getting fired because of this indictment.
All in all, it's becoming clear that for too many getting a government job is a road to the gravy train [and no good end]… The oversight glaringly incompetent; the temptation too great to resist. It is good the Feds are jumping on public corruption because this area has suffered enough. It is not so good that it has taken so long to get these indictments. You get the idea public corruption is not frowned upon enough; that the "it's always been thus" attitude allowed for an atmosphere of the all-you-can-eat-buffet at the public trough.
Didn't anyone wonder how a government employee could be driving around in a Jaguar? Didn't it make anyone wonder how government employees, no matter how high up, can afford regular trips to Hawaii? It's not like the fruits of this illicit labor weren't obvious! It leaves everyone wondering whether there is any sense among managers they have the responsibility of oversight [if they're not in on the game!].
If guilty, it is obvious these people gave not a Tinker's dam their alleged actions were affecting us all. The national headlines hurt, the children whose already inferior educations were made less so hurt, the police officers and firefighters who genuinely put their lives on the line every day were hurt as they head toward retirement, the taxpayers who thought this was a great place to live and raise a family were hurt. A stay in the federal pen, whether club-fed or tougher time hurts!
We all ask and pray those who work for us in the future not be led into temptation. Yet, it begins by demanding they do so before they ever get elected or appointed. That requires, in the end, the public [us!] putting serious pressure on candidates, do a better job vetting them. Then put still more and tougher pressure the feds to make it clear that taking so much as an office pencil comes at a severe price!
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