Wednesday, August 11, 2004

County Shocks Abound

Well, the ghost of Tom Jones haunts and bedevils County Hall still. On the eve of his year-and-a-day imprisonment, he's decided to take others down with him. He's been talking with every media outlet that will listen. His story now is that he wasn't alone in his misuse of County credit cards, that even former Mayor Rout was involved. It'll be interesting to see if this produces anything.

As for how Jones got his pension doubled, the story is slowly dribbling out. John Fowlkes is supposed to issue a report on Thursday. The big hammer dropped late this afternoon. Executive Assistant Bobby Lanier, a long time power broker at County Hall through three different administrations and two parties, and Communications Director Susan Adler Thorp, whose CA columns leading up to the election and her sudden joining of the Wharton administration afterward raised questions, have both tendered their resignations.

Apparently, County Mayor AC Wharton learned of Jones' pension bonanza through a stray remark someone made to him. He was surprised and has maintained absolutely no involvement in or knowledge of Jones' pension status change. Reports late last week had Wharton furious, uncharacteristically so for a man famed for his calm demeanor and soft voice. Jones avoided a pension review board and had his pension change simply signed off by persons unknown -- a violation of procedure.

Behind that, Jones was never actually dismissed, contrary to public perception. He was simply "not reappointed." That allowed him to re-apply for his old status and to keep it long enough to cross the age barrier, which allowed his pension to increase. He then resigned. Why he was allowed to do all this, and who did it and signed off on it, are the questions the Fowlkes report is expected to answer.

I've heard at least one mention on the news that it was a matter of cronies taking care of each other. No attribution of that, but it sure does sound right, doesn't it? We keep hearing stories (like this one, which is disappearing in the glare of the Jones scandals) of this kind of cronyism. I keep hearing from folks in the local media or folks who deal with government of all kinds of back-scratching and self-enrichment, and yet the local paper can't seem to break any stories of their own! How odd....

Local television news is breaking the story all over since 5PM, but their websites are still behind what's been on the air, with sketchy "breaking news" style posts. The CA's website, of course, has nothing at all.

I feel no sorrow for Bobby Lanier. He's precisely the kind of king-maker and apolitical type I despise. He served nominal Republican Jim Rout while raising money to elect AC Wharton (according to County Commissioner John Willingham). Susan Adler Thorp is a different matter. Frankly, I feel some small amount of glee at her plight. She was a long-time supporter of the status quo in local government, a shill for Democrats while stridently denying it, and a welcome beneficiary of go-along-to-get-along. She used her political column to blast Wharton's opponent in the County election, and then mere weeks after his election, she joins his administration! Part of me really is glad to see her get shot down for her sins. I'm curious to see where she lands now.

Watch the news tomorrow to see what is in that Fowlkes report. Also, watch for more of Tom Jones as he flogs his scandal like Dick Morris pimps his Clinton history. I'll report and comment on things tomorrow.

INSTANT UPDATE: WREC3 just had an interview with Susan Adler Thorp on their 10PM broadcast. Her story is that Jones approached her about his pension, but she only directed him to Lanier. She says she took no other action and always "assumed" Wharton was aware. Thorp said she would take a "few weeks or months" off before deciding what to do.

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