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Commentary: Andrew Steele: Corruption’s unmentioned price

Updated: February 12, 2013 12:08PM



Former Lake County coroner Tom Philpot is scheduled to be sentenced next Thursday for his conviction last summer of federal crimes related to the use of state funds intended to be used as bonuses for employees in the county clerk’s office who were involved in child-support collection cases.

Philpot paid some of the money to himself, without the required approval of the Lake County Council, according to the jury’s verdict.

Another in a too-long line of county treating their offices as means for personal gain beyond the perfectly good compensation they already receive.

The support these office-holders — including Philpot in a series of heartfelt letters to his judge — receive from family and friends makes their deeds more tragic but no less criminal.

One of the more significant impacts of this type of corruption, though, goes beyond the specific thievery that may have taken place, and beyond the moral offense it may have caused. The money is generally small, as is the level of trust most people have in politicians.

In addition to those damages, public corruption like this does damage by adding fuel to one of the primary excuses people use to avoid making difficult decisions: that government officials are just a bunch of corrupt and incompetent people bent on wasting money.

It’s much more complicated than that — paying for county govermment is more about paying for regular crime and its punishment, and trying to keep roads and bridges passable, than anything else — but as long as instances of corruption and wastefulness cloud the picture, it seems we’ll never get around to matching our revenue and spending in any realistic way.

Obviously corruption should be pursued and punished, but it’s not nearly the defining characteristic of government, especially county government, that some people seem to think.

Addendum to cop lawsuit story

I used an early version in last week’s Star of the Post-Tribune’s story about the federal lawsuit filed by police officer James Poling against the city.

A comment from Mayor David Uran was included in a later version of the story: “We want to make sure the community understands there are two sides to every story. ... We are very confident once we have the opportunity to tell our side the community will see we were protecting the best interest of our community. We have a very professional police department when all is said and done.”

Uran said he wouldn’t make specific comments about the pending litigation, which alleges the city tried to force Poling out of the department because of complaints he had made as head of the local Fraternal Order of Police.



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