Public officials owe it to taxpayers to keep their business dealings above board and beyond reproach.
And when any hint of that tenant of good government seems to be awry, the proper authorities should investigate until wrongdoing is either disproved or verified.
It's why Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann is right to seek a special prosecutor to sort through allegations of malfeasance in the Portage clerk-treasurer's office.
Only a criminal probe — and a thorough audit of the office's financial records by the Indiana State Board of Accounts — can satisfy Portage residents' right to know if this taxpayer-funded office was acting appropriately when paying contracts in 2015 and 2016 to three companies owned by a woman who would become Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham's wife.
There are too many questions not to conduct a thorough investigation to either clear the matter or bring appropriate change to policy and possible justice.
There's no question that certain matters that have been sniffed out and questioned by a committee created by interim Portage Mayor John Cannon have an odor of being unethical.
But Cannon's allegations also take on the shape of a political football, requiring third-party criminal and state budget investigators to review the matter and render unbiased findings.
Stidham is alleged to have paid Keeping the Books, ERG Advisors and Paramount Technology Solutions a combined total of $70,000 in contracts without the Portage Board of Works approval. The principal of those three companies was Rachel E. Glass, Stidham's then-girlfriend and mother of his child, according to records compiled by a city investigative committee.
In April, Cannon appointed the bipartisan executive investigative committee to look into potential malfeasance in Stidham's office related to those contracts.
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Despite claims that Stidham hasn't satisfied the committee's full request for public records in the matter, the committee has concluded a "sufficient likelihood" that unlawful conduct occurred in the transactions.
Those are serious allegations requiring the eyes of separate and impartial investigators or agencies.
Cannon has been a close ally of former Mayor James Snyder over the years. Snyder, who was convicted of felony bribery and tax charges in federal court earlier this year, was a political enemy of Stidham.
Cannon was chosen to fulfill the remainder of Snyder's mayoral term after the felony conviction removed Snyder from office.
Clearly, Cannon formed the committee that has investigated Stidham, though the interim mayor claims he stepped back and didn't interfere with the committee's probe. One of the three members of the committee is Republican City Councilman Bill Fekete, who replaced Cannon as a councilman via a party caucus vote after Cannon became interim mayor.
The other two committee members probing the matter were Portage Board of Works member Ron Necco and city streets Superintendent Steve Nelson.
Any hint of a political football needs to be removed from the field of play.
The city and county prosecutor should push with all haste for an outside investigation, and Stidham should be forthcoming with all public documents as a matter of open records law.
Portage residents deserve the unfiltered and untainted truth.