Sunday, March 21, 2004

Oh, So Now They See The Light

Commercial Appeal editorials are almost always fertile territory for amazement and humor. Since Dave Kushma went back home, they've turned into missives from a territory so mild and seemingly afraid of stating things plainly you have to wonder.

There was the editorial from January (if I recall it correctly) about the free-for-all amongst firefighters to determine who would next lead them. I read it several times to be sure, but I haven't a clue what the point was. I think it might have been "Fighting amongst yourselves is bad." Ooooooh. Cutting edge stuff. Damning indictment. Jolting call to the task.

Today's was no different. "New ammunition for political cynics" is a howler from start to finish. I don't have time for every point, but let's hit the high spots:
What happened to trust in those who hold the public trust? What is it that has given politics such a bad connotation in many quarters?
I think it's fair to say that in Memphis we should hold politicians in distrust until they prove their integrity. It might save a lot of time and trouble for the taxpayers.

As to the second question, it's obvious to all that our government has become a feeding trough for anyone who can afford the entrance fee. Grease the right palms and you get to slurp from the gravy train. Government has entered so many spheres that it is ripe for abuse in many ways. It's so large that finding accountability is difficult to do; so well-entrenched that enforcing accountability is impossible.

It's elementary. Let the City and County create a task force, empowered to go anywhere and investigate whatever they need to. Think of them as uber-auditors. Make them independent of anything. Set 'em loose. See what they find. Turn those findings over to the DA and then watch 'em disappear!

Alternatively, the Commercial Appeal could do its job and investigate them. I thought that's what newspapers did -- root out bad-doings and expose them to the light of day. Don't wait for the news conference, press release, or police report. Dig it out yourselves!
It's elementary. Either through ethical blind spots or a perverted sense of entitlement, public officials too often in Shelby County have failed to provide the proper separation between personal finances and public duties.
And yet, time and time again, the Commercial Appeal backs these same lunkheads for re-election or lauds those long in government service. Call a pig trough a pig trough and call a pig a pig! Instead of lauding them as statesmen, prick them with the needle of conscience once in a while.
Rout's case is problematic on its face. As reported by The Commercial Appeal's Michael Erskine last week, most of the investors in a fledgling medical group, one of the startup companies in Delta's portfolio, lost their money when the company filed for bankruptcy in December 2000.

Rout, the chairman of the county retirement board, which controls pension fund investments, got his $25,000 personal investment back.

Rout describes the transaction as a buyout that in no way affected his 2002 vote to invest $12 million in county pension funds in Delta Capital Management, a venture capital firm co-founded by former city councilman John Bobango.
OK, guys? This is the editorial page. You can express incredulity here and it's alright. You can scoff and even ridicule if you think it's needed.

You might also mention that Rout sits on the Board of SBC, the County's contractor for information service technology, a sweet deal for both parties, I'm sure.
Government officials simply should not be making multimillion-dollar commitments of public funds under circumstances with even an undercurrent of personal benefit.

These are the kinds of deals that produce an odor in local government that takes years to eradicate.
Oops, sorry. I fell out of my chair there. Isn't this the same paper that went out of its way to make sure that the FedEx Forum became a done deal? Who went after critics without mercy? There was never a whiff of concern about "personal benefit" on that deal, no sir. Still no odor today, in fact.

I'm still astonished they would actually print that paragraph. Really. Without the least hint of shame or abashment.
The situation reinforces an impression of the Rout administration already colored by the indictment and sentencing of former Rout aide Tom Jones on charges of misappropriating funds through county credit cards.

Jones used two county-issued credit cards for personal use to the tune of $76,000, and in a parting shot at his former boss after his sentencing told The Commercial Appeal that he believes about $10,000 of the charges he still has to pay back actually benefited Rout and others in the administration.

He described the administration as a "dysfunctional family" with numerous members who took advantage of their access to public funds to enhance the personal lifestyles of themselves and their family members.
You would think that stink would have wafted into the nostrils of the Commercial Appeal's watchdogs and set them to baying for blood. Red meat! But no, they were content to let the DA do the work. There's some evidence, I suspect, that they were well aware of the problem long before it came to light. The State Comptroller's report on Jones and other problems was circulating for months before the County elections that year, but we never heard of it until after. You would think with one of the top administrators being tainted that they might suspect some of the underlings followed his example. But no, they didn't follow that up.
The depth of the problem is a matter of dispute, and the comments of a public official who has been caught with his hand in the public cookie jar have to be considered in context.
Oh well. That explains that!
There was no quid pro quo involving Rout, insists Donald Mundie, Delta's managing partner of Delta.

Still, Shelby County taxpayers can't be blamed if they think the deal really stinks.
Or that maybe its public watchdog newspaper stinks. That would be my take.

But mind you that's only my opinion, which is based solely on the evidence presented to me. If I knew more, I might think differently.


No comments: