MARC CHASE: Well-intended ethics pledge no cure for corruption

2014-04-22T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Well-intended ethics pledge no cure for corruptionMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
April 22, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It's sad when public officials must show their willingness to do the right thing by signing toothless documents promising they won't act like conniving, entitled thieves and will train their underlings to avoid such behaviors.

That's how I view the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission and what its leaders are trying to do for region government. Though noble and well-intentioned, they're fighting an epidemic with pledges, ethics club membership and training for behaviors government leaders should have learned were improper as children.

I understand and agree with the principles the commission seeks to impart. Northwest Indiana is home to Lake County, after all, in which elected officials often are stricken with the self-serving plague of greed and entitlement garnering criminal convictions.

The feds have been probing and seizing evidence in neighboring Porter County as well, showing the plague may be either spreading or was present there all along.

Since 1985, more than 60 Lake County public officials, most of them Democrats, have been convicted of crimes against the taxpayer, and the hits keep coming.

One county official hobbles into a federal courtroom in shackles, and less than a year later the story repeats itself with a municipal official performing a very similar dance.

So I respect the goal of the ethics commission, which seeks the participation of local government councils, boards and individual elected officials in its drafted pledges of doing the right thing.

I'm just not sure it will make any difference.

Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong made a salient point recently on the potential effectiveness of the ethics pledges.

Though Strong signed a commission pledge, he noted he learned proper ethics and morals as a child. You know, the lessons about not taking things that aren't yours -- about putting the needs of those you promise to serve ahead of your own.

Learning to do the right thing starts early, and it becomes nearly impossible to teach to adults.

Some folks believe transgressors can be reformed or rewired. I'm not really in that camp. At some stage, people become who they're going to be, and they don't really change much.

I think this has been true of a number of the local politicians caught with red hands in the public till.

Why else would we have an elected county official pleading guilty to public corruption in 2013 after watching another county official convicted of similar crimes in 2012 and a mayor convicted of stealing from taxpayers in 2010?

If the very real threat of conviction, time in prison and bringing shame upon one's self and one's family isn't deterrent enough, how could the signing of an ethics pledge — or even ethics training — possibly be effective?

The best treatment program is for voters to become surgeons and cut out the cancer of public corruption at the polls.

That hasn't worked in Lake County either, but perhaps expanding term limits would.

Expanding term limits within Indiana law to all local government offices could at least give officials carrying the disease of public corruption less time to spread their plague.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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