Twice in the past few weeks local elected “leaders” attempted to use their position to benefit themselves. One of these attempts I witnessed first hand. The second one I was told about more than once.
Without getting too technical, a conflict of interest (COI) is “a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests (financial, emotional, or otherwise), one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.”
A COI does not need to be criminal but it can be improper or have the appearance of being improper.
It has become almost normal to see politicians at the national and state level use their influence either for personal gain or to gain an advantage for one of their constituents. We seldom hear about these actions because they are buried in layers of regulations and are carried out by bureaucrats instead of the elected official. The higher up you go in government, the harder it is to uncover an act of avarice.
There are times when deals are cut that really do benefit the elected person’s constituents and not the elected leader. When a bridge is built or a special project is funded, we applaud “our guy” for bringing home the bacon. We are, in effect, being bribed by our own tax dollars.
At the local level of government we pride ourselves in keeping a tight reign on our elected leaders. Usually that is effective. It is harder, (but not impossible), to fool someone when you have to confront them everyday. Local council members and school board members have to look their constituents in the eye when they go to the market, a movie or football game.
That is why it was sad in a way to see these two obvious actions by local leaders.
Let me relate the event I witnessed. I will try to do so without mentioning any names but if you have followed our newspaper coverage at all you can fill in the blanks.
While attending a recent Brookville Borough Council meeting, I heard a council member request that body desist from discussing the proposed inspection of rental property for two years. The motion wasn’t going any where because, as the solicitor pointed out, there had never been a motion to draft an inspection ordinance.
So why the rush to table something that had never been brought to the table? Could it have been because the person making the motion also owns rental properties?
If that is not a conflict of interests it comes very, very close.
Curiously, the family of the council member who brought the proposal to the council also owns property. That council member was willing to put the good of the community above his family’s pocketbook.
The second incident was witnessed by Patti Slaughter at the meeting of the school board of directors for the Brookville Area School District. Once again I will refrain from using names.
The issue before the board was unscheduled stops for school vans. A motion was made by one board member to allow school vans to stop and pick up kids if seats were available. The action would have turned the vans into taxis.
What was particularly odious was that the children of the board member making the motion would have been some of those very students sitting in those unoccupied seats.
A conflict? You be the judge.
To that board member’s credit, the motion was withdrawn and no further action was taken.
It seems some of our local elected leaders have learned from the actions of the people in Harrisburg and Washington. The people using their positions locally have been brought up short by other members of the elected body. Will that continue? We can only hope so.
The trust the public gives to the people they elect should be respected. When that trust is subverted for personal gain at the expense of the greater good, our political system has lost.
Fortunately, all of our elected leaders must pass the test at the polls. If they no longer serve the public good, they can be dismissed by the voters. Ultimately, it is up to you to determine who is working for you and who is working for themselves.