In The News
Walker and Clark: True crimes and misdemeanors at county
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
America’s biggest crooks stay just this side of the law while crippling our economy with misdeeds – yet get rewarded when taxpayers must bail out their bad practices.
That sense of imbalance underlies the general Tea Party vilification of the largest banks (despite acknowledgement that even worse would have happened without a rescue). It’s the specific anger in a different political movement -- the national AFL-CIO “pay up or else” campaign in March demanding banks pay back the federal taxpayers and restore loans to suffering consumers and small businesses before they lard their employees with bonuses.
Some things are obviously illegal and some activities are harmful and inhumane but still legal – and the public doesn’t much care about such differentials unless it gets angry enough. Citizens have been slow to catch on to such shell games because of ideological camouflage, but as the generally Republican banker CEOS have learned, look out when they do.
Also, look out if you’re a politician who pretends to save taxpayer money when actually savaging the local economy by wasting money. Ideology won’t protect you when the ceiling caves in. Lies and false promises may not bring prosecutors to the door but they can raise a tide of anger. You can skate on the edge with dictatorial decisions that insult good workers, you can refuse concessions offered by unions, and you can eliminate hundreds of jobs and squash the economic base without helping matters -- but beware when the public catches on.
Take County Executive Scott Walker’s claim about saving the taxpayers’ money because he opposes quality of life taxes. To justify his latest round of 76 layoffs of real workers in real jobs, he pulled figures from somewhere (his rectum?) that he would save millions of dollars, while no analyst can find this money, as the public couldn’t from his earlier layoffs. It’s another after-hours attempt to produce the balanced budget he’s required to do but once again hasn’t.
Now it isn’t clearly a crime to increase the cost of county operations while decreasing services, but it becomes obvious when the higher tax bills come in that this is all hoopla. There’s no law requiring the public to understand hard numbers, but there is a point when it becomes too obvious to ignore, such as increasing the taxpayer portion of the pension plan despite election promises.
Walker believes he can even handle this to stoke his anti-tax image as he runs for governor, but ineptitude and excessive grabbing keeps creeping into the public consciousness. Just as with the banks.
Hundreds of taxpayers, county workers, were required by law to live in the county. When they were eliminated by Walker’s devices, it was admittedly not because there wasn’t work to be done. It just meant fewer employed people to own homes or rent apartments, helping the county pay for services. In their place are private employees at lower wages and few or no benefits, who can live anywhere. They put greater pressure on all government safety nets while their bosses get a cut of county taxpayer money.
How long before that reality sinks in? Not long, because some of these Walker games have cut close to the edge of legal consequence. Forced by law as it would under Democrat or Republican administrations, the state has had to step in and rescue Walker’s administration from bad and inadequate use of public money that violated regulations, meaning state and federal agencies are spending more taxpayer money in bailout and rescue.
Some remedies may be possible in the courts over Walker’s violation of union bargaining rights, but residents have no such recourse as they pay more for parks, courts, busses, law enforcement, family programs and so forth.
Contrast the millions of dollars wasted for county taxpayers through such shenanigans with the more recent headlines about political misbehavior.
Don’t misunderstand. There is no justification, never will be, for Toni Clark. The resigned county supervisor committed a felony and will spend six months in jail for diverting $6,450 in contributions to her election campaigns over seven years to feed her personal financial difficulties and support her gambling addiction. That’s not taxpayer money, and not a huge sum, less than $1,000 a year. But it is an unforgivable violation of the public trust, a slap in the face of those who believed in her ideals and contributed to her campaign.
It surely raises the specter of payoffs, though prosecutors found no such behavior and cited her personal issues, not her civic work. In church she might be forgiven as weak, desperate and sinful, but in the public area, this is inexcusable. Particularly as those she most offended were the lowest-income residents she had always made of point of championing. Imagine how they must feel. Such a personal lapse can’t be tolerated in public office even if slick Willies and bad management might cost taxpayers real millions.
So prosecutors are right to scrutinize the accounts of public officials as required by law, violations that can be quickly uncovered. But talk to those prosecutors and they wish there were reporting regulations up the white collar chain to examine more than the low-hanging fruit.
It’s a good warning for any politician tempted to pose for holy cards about ethics, as Walker did in his statement on the Clark case, when the pubic knows there are other kinds of ethical missteps. Those don’t make the courtrooms, but they do show up at the polls.