Who is watching the cookie jar?
At our family reunion last weekend, conversation turned to Maryland’s politics. Not that political talk is uncommon at this type of gathering, however, this time the facial expressions of the miscellaneous kinfolk gathered for this chat told me there was both interest and concern on many levels.
Currently the Baltimore County Council has two council members awaiting trial and is rumored to have a third under federal investigation. How can this legislative body be effective in doing the business of the citizens of Baltimore County? Well, perhaps they can do the job; but what about public trust and credibility?
Local governments touch citizens everyday in very personal ways. Every zoning issue causes someone either joy or heartache. Almost every council decision has a direct effect on someone’s paycheck. The problem is caused when those decisions become clouded by greed, or when good judgment is overcome by the desire for power.
Baltimore County is the poster child for the “fox watching the henhouse.” During the 2002 election campaign, I happened to be at one of the county office buildings about a personal issue. While there, by happenstance that day, the Democrat candidate for county executive was being given a personal tour through the building and being personally “introduced” to all the good county employees – but it wasn’t really campaigning.
Two of my friends, who are employees in that building, were reminded much closer to the election, if the Republicans got elected everyone there would “lose their jobs.” It is a crazy rumor which has been repeated so often that many employees believe it to be a fact.
What many elected officials, especially those who have served “long-term,” have forgotten is public trust. They are in their positions to serve the public to the best of their abilities, not as lifelong careers.
Too many elected officials survive solely on the income generated from their “part-time” position. They then are tempted to do bad things, or to look at outside sources for help. Most salaries for local officials are rather low, yet they play in a high profile game which takes money and wields considerable power.
Over time members of both political parties become enamored with power and forget why they chose to serve their community. Our forefathers set up our citizen government so we could remain active in our communities and maintain our careers while sacrificing time to serve our neighbors. It was what a part-time citizen government was all about.
Today, well over half of our elected officials have no other employment except that of justifying being a full time legislator with a part-time salary. This is part of the root cause of our make-work government red-tape and too many government jobs.
We need additional checks and balances on our elected officials. We need to have term-limits to keep anyone from gaining too much power or getting too close to the edge of temptation. We need to hold our public officials responsible for the problems they create – instead of quickly forgetting and voting party line at the voting booth.
“To err is human and to forgive is divine.” However, we should not forget or we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes…again.