Public trust at stake

Published 9:16 am Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I was fortunate to get out of town last week, but unfortunate that my destination was the city of Pearl. For the second time I have had the pleasure of visiting the Surplus Property warehouse, a candy-store of equipment, furnishings, computers and other sundry items including trailers that can be purchased by municipalities and county offices of government for pennies on the dollar.

Pearl, I’m sure, can be a fun town, but for this Bassfield native having to attend a press conference hosted by State Auditor Stacy Pickering as he once again shines a spotlight on the corruption of Bassfield, well, it’s not fun. Pickering announced the conclusion of the case against six town of Bassfield employees who were accused and convicted of breaking the public’s trust. My fierce loyalty was at odds with his cocky assuredness.

The most striking and memorable comment of the day was, “we hold those who work in public service to a higher standard.”

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Hmmm…so if I were to steal money from The Prentiss Headlight, those for whom I work would most certainly not tolerate it. Without preamble, I would be sacked. Does this mean that if I worked for the town, the county or the state, then my sin is even more evil because I would be breaking the confidence of the people?

As a critical thinker, I tend to view an issue from all sides and not rush to judgment. Last year, I asked then-Mayor Jerry Holland about the investigations that were just beginning. Holland stated that their actions might have been wrong, but that they just didn’t know they were wrong.

My maze-like brain then begins to wonder, how does a newly-elected mayor know how to do the job of mayor? It’s not like you go to ‘mayor school.’ For that matter, think of a new coroner, tax assessor and collector, circuit clerk, supervisor or alderman. I would venture that none of them walk in the door as an expert at their job. Some of them know close to nothing, but run for the office because they could not stand their predecessor, and after an electoral win, they are left holding a baby that is our fragile public trust.

We the voters and taxpayers, however, pay for them to go to school in the form of a conference, which consists usually of a nice hotel room, meals in above-average restaurants and transportation and registration all paid.

Our Election Commissioners hit the road on Tuesday headed to Philadelphia for their annual conference. Our Supervisors just returned from their mid-winter conference in Jackson.

Mistakes are bound to be made in a new job, but ignorance of the rules and regulations of one’s job is not an excuse. Surely, in the 27 years that Holland served as Alderman and attended conferences and the two years he served as Bassfield’s mayor, at least one of those conference breakout sessions touched on the legal process for purchasing and disposing of surplus property and equipment.

Let’s hope Bassfield can now get on the road to some closure and healing and that the public relations gift that is the Bassfield Yellowjackets can once again overshadow this latest debacle.