Eh, a weak one to end Wayback Week, but this one took me back to how pathetic public-sector crime is in the Fort. Penny ante. Small-time. Itty-bitty crooks. Something you can’t say about Detroit, ever.
November 13, 2001
If you’re going to sin, sin big.
Not having the sort of personal relationship with God that many others do, I can’t say whether he grades on the curve. But I do, and there’s something about some of our latest public scandals that is not only troubling, but pathetic. One can feel outrage for an audaciously dishonest public servant. One can feel only contempt for small-time crooks.
At the moment, it’s the great city-county parking garage scandal that’s in the news. Allen County Sheriff Jim Herman disciplined 25 employees of his office for participating in what early news reports called a “ticket-swap scheme.”
You hear this, and you think someone was making traffic tickets go away, which, while hardly the sort of civic scandal that makes jaws drop, at least sounds like something worth doing. The last traffic ticket I got carried a fine of $170, a lot of money where I come from.
But no, these weren’t traffic tickets. They weren’t even moving violations. They weren’t even parking tickets in the sense that we all understand them. They were parking-garage tickets.
It worked like this: First-shift workers parked in the garage. Second-shift workers parked in the garage. As the second-shifters came on duty, they gave their tickets to first-shift employees as they left. The first shift got to leave and pay for only a few minutes of parking; the second shift got away clean because when the attendants left work for the day they raised the gates, effectively making the garage free for everyone.
The punch line: Those employees already have free parking available to them, but it’s a whole two blocks away.
There is only one reaction available to a story like this: “Sin big!”
At this point we must pause to note they don’t call it public service for nothing. Particularly in Allen County, city and county employees accept salaries far lower than those paid a similar job in the private sector. As compensation, they have available a number of options.
They can use their time in publicly supported jobs to build a vast array of contacts in the local power structure, then dive into private-sector consultancy or some other, more lucrative career; they can build a variety of unique skills that others will pay more for; or they can simply console themselves with the fat benefits and Veterans Day holidays and greater job security not available to the non-apparatchiks working elsewhere.
A few years ago, a township trustee was indicted in office for funneling public money to his private pocket. When the details of the kickback scheme were released, you could feel only pity for this man, who flushed his good name away for a sum that after four years barely reached the low five figures.
“It’s like he’s short on his house payment, so he takes $60,” a reporter remarked at the time, sadly.
Sin big! Linda Tripp didn’t do anything explicitly illegal, if you discount perhaps her taping of Monica Lewinsky, but you had to admire her moxie once all the beans spilled. She knew what a federal job is worth, and she hung onto hers with everything she had, even while it became evident she wasn’t doing much of anything for a salary that topped (wheeze!) $90,000 a year, plus a paid holiday on Veterans Day. No hostile Clinton administration could knock her loose.
Public servants, if larceny is on your mind, do it well. Give us a reason to hate you. Open an offshore bank account, grow a mustache suitable for Snidely Whiplash-style twirling, don’t cover your face during the perp walk. Hold it high and sneer.
And take the free parking you’re offered. It’s the cheap stuff that gets you.