Lake County sure knows how to spice it up, and spice can be a good thing if it's awakening flavors in otherwise bland food.
Spice is not such a good thing if it comes in the form of mace or pepper spray applied to the eyeballs.
Metaphorically speaking, Lake County government serves up both types of spice, but the the spicy-eye variety is all too common.
Let's first look at the Lake County coroner's office. By its very definition, there shouldn't be much exciting going on here, right? The folks with whom the office interfaces aren't saying much. Such an office would normally be pretty bland.
Yet we have a previous coroner — from just one election cycle ago — who is serving time in federal prison for essentially stealing from taxpayers. Of course — out of fairness to the office of the dead — he didn't commit this crime while serving as coroner. No, this happened while he was previously serving in that equally bland office of county clerk.
Some folks may want to salsa dance when they think of the county clerk, especially nerds like me who enjoy digging through stacks of public records. But I'm guessing most people reading this column don't find it terribly exciting.
And what about libraries, often characterized by dry higher learning and stereotypical spinster administrators? We spice that up in Lake County, too. Just last week, the former director of East Chicago's public library formally pleaded guilty in Hammond federal court to filing a false tax return.
Ask anyone — outside Lake County — about the office of surveyor, and a high probability exists for eliciting a yawn. But here in Lake County, our surveyor is under federal indictment, accused of using county employees to work on his campaign at taxpayer expense. The feds also claim the surveyor had a county computer hard drive removed to cover his tracks. He is pleading innocence and will be afforded his day in court.
Whether or not the surveyor is convicted, lasting damage to Lake County's image already has been done in the eyes of downstate officials, lawmakers and their communities — not just by the surveyor's case but by countless other cases that have plagued the county over the years.
Our local officials have been demanding respect from Indianapolis quite a bit in recent years. Lake County leaders whine about tax caps or moan when governors or gubernatorial candidates avoid Lake County visits. And they beg for extensions of deadlines to meet state-mandated benchmarks for better government practices.
Of course, it's difficult for downstate officials to respond favorably to those requests — what with all the tears flowing from the clouds of pepper spray our scandals keep dispensing.