Our Lost “Scalpel of Law” Against Public Corruption
April 17, 2016
Just after the recent tax vote for our collapsing Caddo Parish school system, a new friend shared with me her exchange with a local guy about corruption in that system. This man pooh-poohed any such, dismissing as mere incompetence any notion of official wrongdoing. As I put it, he flashed his Corruption Apologist badge.
This man and the many other members of that club would have us believe Shreveport and Caddo were long ago sprinkled with anti-corruption fairy dust, evermore protecting us from both its fact and terrible costs. If we buy that – and many here certainly do – our community will continue its fall into the pit of societal ills, as have many other notable places.
Public corruption is an ever-present danger to all communities. Healthy places speak, work and aggressively police against it. Most particularly, healthy places loudly and proudly punish the corrupt. Real leaders, of course, understand that honest, decent, hard-working taxpayers must know those who steal from them will be called-out and punished.
Here, corrupt officials win all day long, every day. Our job as taxpayers is to shut-up and hand over our money.
Our investment in the culture of public corruption is so deep that many of us socially wink and nod and joke to others about its proliferation. Such is how we grew our outsized class of corruption apologists. They include the actively corrupt, the retired corrupt (once in, always in), those who hope to somehow get in on the corruption, and, finally, those who provide cover for the corrupt. Some of the latter group, we should always remember, are prominent and powerful.
We should remember, too, the results of our deep investment in runaway corruption. Included among its scars on our community are striking long-term economic under-performance, avaricious taxation, decades of resulting population loss, and a more or less expired community spirit.
Were we to have a public debate on this subject, it would be brief. The mere definition of public corruption settles the matter … except to the corrupt. Any dictionary will show some version of this definition:
“Public corruption is a breach of public trust or abuse of power by a public official.“
By definition, therefore, our public corruption is a scourge, not a mere problem … many of our public officials are guilty of corruption as a matter of course. Official acts of self-enrichment, wanton dismissal of law, abuse of the citizenry, and on and on is now accepted. As New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, our place is recognized for our extraordinary comfort with public corruption.
An excellent and current example is the recent attempt by top Caddo Parish School Board bosses to cover-up felony theft at Woodlawn High School. Remember, these officials acted in violation of criminal law to prevent a tax election loss, and to protect the supposed good standing of schools, like Woodlawn, included in the system’s mega-hyped “Transformation Zone” program.
The subject theft of at least $11,000 in public money began some nine months ago. As the tax vote neared, system bosses hatched a cover-up, which is to say, obstructed justice. On March 17th, ten days after the CPSB internal auditor reported the crime to our sheriff’s department, and one week after I went public with the specifics, system bosses cut a deal with the politically well-connected employee to quietly go away, health care and retirement benefits reputedly intact. (Timeline and other details here.)
In places in which each chance for justice matters, (felony) theft over $1,500 is subject to a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. As for the system officials in on the obstruction of justice, Louisiana criminal law – R.S. 14:130.1 (A) (1) (e), here – sets out a fine of up to $10,000, and a prison sentence of up to 5 years.
In the late 1980s, as New York City emerged from a long and costly period of public corruption, former mayor Ed Koch noted,
“The knife of corruption endangered the life of New York City. The scalpel of the law is making us well again.”
Clearly, our scalpel is lost.
… more later …
(Elliott Stonecipher does this work pro bono … no compensation of any kind is solicited or accepted. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, of course – is expected. The use of his work without such credit to him is unethical and will not be quietly accepted.)