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Van Til's indictment

FBI seized computers and other items from the office of Lake County Surveyor George Van Til last June.

Lake County Surveyor George Van Til's name was added Friday to the long list of Northwest Indiana public officials indicted on federal public corruption charges.

It is now up to the courts to determine whether Van Til is guilty of the misdeeds with which he is charged. However, there are some lessons to be learned from this indictment:

No one is above the law. This includes people who have been given the public's trust by winning an election. That must always remain the case.

Van Til, a Democrat, won his election handily last November. He is accused of using two Lake County employees in his office to campaign with the county's -- meaning taxpayers' -- equipment on Van Til's behalf. He is further charged with convincing an employee to replace a hard drive in one of the computers in case the feds raided his office -- an occasion which came to pass last June.

The investigation is "active and ongoing," U.S. Attorney David Capp said. That's as it should be. Public corruption erodes the public's trust in government, and if the charges announced Friday are accurate, taxpayer money that should have gone to serving the public's needs was diverted toward feeding greed. That is inexcusible.

Lake County needs to join the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. The County Council and commissioners decided to join last year, but their lawyers got in the way. This year, make it happen. The ethics training is needed so employees and elected officials know what's right and what's wrong, and to know who should hear complaints of unethical behavior.

Unethical behavior is not always criminal, although the two sometimes intersect, but it is always wrong. Lake County's citizens deserve better than they're getting.

The surveyor shouldn't be elected in the first place. Make it a professional position, not a political position, by finally reforming county government along the lines of the Kernan-Shepard Report recommendations.

That means electing a county administrator and giving that person the same responsibilities as a mayor. Make that administrator the CEO and make department heads -- especially in positions where policy isn't being set -- subordinate to that administrator.

Finally, Lake County needs to professionalize the hiring process. Instead of using a human relations consultant, make one person responsible for overseeing the hiring and firing process.

County government is big business in any county, and that's especially true in larger counties like Lake and Porter. It should be run professionally and run well. That means implementing each of the above recommendations, from restructuring county government to focusing on ethical behavior.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.