Morning Read: Governments behaving badly

So if there’s one broad bias that runs through the In Box narrative, it’s that I think government and politicians generally deserve more praise and respect than they get from voters.

But sometimes it’s hard not to shake your head at the shenanigans that public officials get up to.  Take the scandal in Jefferson County that involves topless photos of a sheriff’s deputy.  This from the Watertown Daily Times.

[I]n the state Supreme Court lawsuit, sheriff’s Deputy Krystal G. Rice, alleges that a detective took topless photographs of her in an online pedophile sting and that those photographs no longer can be accounted for.

Then there’s the simmering crisis in Lake Placid, where the school district superintendent is under siege from voters for describing some female staff members as “bitches,” and where the high school and middle school principal abruptly left her post last week.

This from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

Earlier in the evening, former middle-high school Principal Robert Schiller…said [superintendent Randy] Richards has exhibited “behavior unbecoming of a school leader, flawed decision making, retribution in the workplace, lack of respect for work environment, lack of effective communication, disregard for parents’ needs and concerns, and lack of long-range planning designed to return the district to a place of excellence in the North Country.”

This next story falls outside our region, but I just stumbled across reports that public school teachers in Buffalo were granted free plastic surgery as part of the contract — a deal signed off on by school district officials.

Last year, that provision cost taxpayers $5.9 million according to the Buffalo News.

The cost fluctuates from year to year because the district pays out of pocket for every procedure, rather than paying a set premium to an insurance company.

The benefit is used by about 500 people a year — less than 2 percent of those who are eligible for it.

Yikes.  In this age when governments, politicians, and public employees face constant criticisms and attacks, you’d think officials and union leaders would be smarter than that.

These scandals aren’t just gossip.  They have real-world impacts.

The sexual harassment case that forced Harrietstown supervisor Larry Miller out of office cost taxpayers $30,000 in settlement costs.  The sheriff’s office case in Jefferson County has sparked a $50 million lawsuit.

And in Lake Placid, it’s possible that the on-going turmoil in the district could convince people to vote against this year’s district budget, an outcome that could seriously disrupt education programs.

How do you see these cases?  Outliers?  Rare exceptions that draw most of the media coverage?  What’s your view generally of local government in the North Country?

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34 Comments on “Morning Read: Governments behaving badly”

  1. Jim Bullard says:

    The whole case of the deputy is naivete personified. She didn’t get a copy of the contract they had her sign. The photos were for use in an Internet sting but they were only to be on one disk locked in a desk. How do you put photos on the Internet and not have them go further than intended? Millions of photographers would like to know. The sheriff’s department isn’t denying that the photos were taken or that there was a contract but claims to have destroyed both without notice to the deputy? I know these officers studied criminal justice but wasn’t even a tiny bit of civil contract law in there anywhere?

    And now an anonymous caller claiming to be associated with the sheriff’s office has issued threats to the deputy’s attorney as well as made a strange call to the county clerk’s office. It gets stranger all the time.

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  2. tourpro says:

    More examples:

    GSA investigation, among other government duplication and waste.

    Tax evasion by politicians – Rangel case still bugs me a lot.

    Secret Service.

    Alleged “misappropriation” – Lake Placid case still pending, but that’s peanuts compared to Dixon, Illinois case…. $30 million !!

    Many other stories everyday.

    We’ve created a system where the incentives for corruption are quite high. I’d like to think that increased awareness and scrutiny is actually playing a role in revealing this stuff. (Plus, the New Media).

    Watertown Topless Cop …. outlier. Sensational story, but kind of not surprising.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    The news seems to be filled with stories about really stupid people, like the one about the woman who stole millions from some government and thought no one would notice she owned a million dollar motor home she couldn’t afford on her pay.
    And let’s not forget the utter stupidity of the Secret Service agent who made the mistake of not wanting to pay the prostitute for services rendered. This started the whole scandal when the girl refused to leave the room until she was paid Cheap and stupid!
    I guess who should be happy no male prostitutes were hired. Or were they and that part is being swept under the rug?
    I once had a sheriff tell me his department solved most crimes because of the stupidity of the criminals.

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  4. Kathy says:

    Society’s hunger for the sensational gives fodder for the 24/7 news stations.
    These things have always gone on.

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  5. Jim Bullard says:

    Kathy, my great-grandfather was fascinated by and kept scrapbooks full of this kind of stuff. Yes, it has always gone on but in the electronic age we hear about it quicker.

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  6. mervel says:

    Of course the US government entities face attacks, they should… we have the GSA having massive million dollar parties in the midst of a severe recession, we have soldiers killing for sport and urinating on bodies and taking pictures laughing about it; and we have secret service agents, not just one bad egg, but 20, out hooking up with prostitutes in Columbia, and we wonder why government faces critisicm? These are the people we are going to trust? Gee I wonder why people distrust government?

    The local issues you point out are relatively small compared to the culture of corruption which seems to dominate some parts of our government.

    At some point we have to start to say this is not just one bad apple, there is something really rotten going on.

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  7. Kathy says:

    At some point we have to start to say this is not just one bad apple, there is something really rotten going on.

    And the something that is really rotten is what I was trying to establish yesterday. We have freedom. There is power in freedom but the results are not always good. That doesn’t mean regulate freedom, it just means that we can dialogue about how things got so rotten. A free pass doesn’t always mean one is truly free. What comes around may imprison us in the end. Think nuclear energy.

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  8. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Here’s the thing, people in the private sector steal money every day, utilize the services of prostitutes every day, insult and create very negative working environments for their co-workers every day, enter into stupid and unenforceable contracts every day, etc. Given government employs millions of people nation wide, it’s simply a matter of statistics that some of those that engage in such behavior also happen to work in gov’t. As mentioned above, it’s nothing new and now just more sensationalized by our 24/7 news cycle and is instantly accessible.

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  9. mervel says:

    I wish that were true Clapton, but it is comparing apples to oranges. I am not saying this is a government versus private sector argument. I am saying that you have people who forcefully take our money and forcefully occupy other countries and who are charged with protecting our nations most sensitive secrets about the president, who are corrupt. This corruption looks to be beyond the errant bad egg, it looks to be a normal part of being in the secret service or the armed forces or the GSA.

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  10. Paul says:

    “At some point we have to start to say this is not just one bad apple, there is something really rotten going on.”

    Maybe, but I think that things are probably just as rotten or maybe even much less rotten than they have been in the past, we just have easy access to all the rotten stuff going on.

    Some here in recent posts were waxing nostalgic about the “good old days”. I think there was a reference to the 50′s as a better time. That was also a time that we had an institutionalized system for treating millions of African Americans rottenly on a daily basis. The news covers the bad stuff much more than the good so our views get warped.

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  11. Pete Klein says:

    If you read history or watch it in such programs as “The Tudors,” you really have to admit these times are better than most times in the past.
    And you don’t have to go back that far. Anyone want to return to the Wild West or the wonderful 20′s and 30′s?
    And let’s not forget all the prostitution that went on in the Adirondacks during those romantic days of lumber drives.

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  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    What Paul said. As I see it things are getting better all the time.

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  13. Mervel says:

    I guess Abu Grab was just a couple of zany kids, one in a million deal. I don’t think what we are doing is any worse than the My Lai massacre or the wounded Knee massacre, its essentially part of the continuum of occupation and counter insurgency, the blunt force of government trying to control other people against their will.

    If it had been one secret service agent or maybe even two or three I would certainly say you can always have a bad egg, but this is too many and they acted as if it was normal. My suspicion is this is how they normally act on the road. It is one thing to be a bunch of drunk army privates, but this is the secret service they have the highest level of security clearances possible in the government. Party on.

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  14. Mervel says:

    I have no illusions about the past. Many things ARE better today, and many things ARE worse. It is foolish to just think things are getting better because time is progressing.

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  15. Kent Gregson says:

    We’ll be having more trouble with our system of govornment. Science tells us that all systems eventually break down into chaos. That’s one reason we hit the reset button in 1776 and got rid of that colonial system that was not functioning for us. Our present situation is also a system prone to eventual breakdown. You just have to wonder when it happened.

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  16. Pete Klein says:

    Returning to the Secret Service agents and prostitution, I heard today that having that meeting in Columbia was sort of asking for trouble because prostitution is legal in Columbia.
    On a related note, I hear where Obama still is in favor of the War on Drugs even though it has accomplished nothing but cost us.
    According to the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, “Forty million-plus. That’s how many Americans have been arrested; One trillion-plus. That’s the cost; Two thousand, eight hundred. That’s the percentage by which drug use has risen; One-point-three. That’s the percentage of Americans who were drug addicted in 1914 before they were illegal; and One-point-three. That’s the percentage of Americans who are drug addicted now.”

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  17. Walker says:

    That’s a great set of stats, Pete! Hard to argue. Still, you know that if Obama announced an end to the War on Drugs, the hue and cry against him would be deafening. Maybe later on…

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  18. Kathy says:

    If it had been one secret service agent or maybe even two or three I would certainly say you can always have a bad egg, but this is too many and they acted as if it was normal.

    This is my ongoing point in many threads. Can’t we see that there is a breakdown going on? They acted as if it’s normal because everything is acceptable. I do not yearn for the ’50s. Yet, even though it wasn’t an era isolated or sterile from anything, generally speaking, there was more self control. Today, with TV, movies, and the internet, it’s opened up a whole new world for people who previously may have been to embarrassed to buy a Playboy magazine.

    You give someone a free pass, human nature is to take full advantage and then some.

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  19. Kathy says:

    Science tells us that all systems eventually break down into chaos.

    Great point. Logical, too. Isn’t it true that maintenance is required in our vehicles, finances, machinery, gardens, businesses, relationships, and bodies? Well, how about societies and nations? How does it play out if there isn’t some semblance of maintenance in the form of unity.

    The liberal perspective is set on progress; change. Conservatives keep pulling in the reins. How do we maintain? The Constitution is the foundation we are building upon, but we disagree – living vs. originalism?

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  20. Pete Klein says:

    Walker,
    My number one beef with Obama is everything with him seems to be later on.
    Even the health care bill is two beers short of a six-pack.

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  21. Kent Gregson says:

    Maintanance is a good thing, but it just forestalls the inevitable. A well maintained car or body wil probably last longer, but not forever. Life goes on anyway. For societies and nations unity can be as detructive as dissent. The agreement to disagree is ,I think, a more healing way than trying to get everyone on exactly the same page and agree. When the Adirondack community tried to unite against the implementation of the A.P.A. someone said that if you can get a dozen adirondackers to all agree on anything, call the media and take a picture, there’s history being made.

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  22. Kathy says:

    The agreement to disagree is ,I think, a more healing way than trying to get everyone on exactly the same page and agree.

    I think this is true as well. I just think it’s critical for the foundation to be strong. When people quibble about interpreting the foundation, then it seems that brick by brick we may destroy it.

    I like your points, Kent. You’ve given me a different way to think about some things.

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  23. myown says:

    I think the founders of our country would be proud of our progress and change that ended slavery and gave women the right to vote. Is that liberal and a living constitution? That is fine with me and I hope there is more progress to come.

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  24. Mervel says:

    I think they would be shocked that we are invading and occupying different nations around the globe becoming entangled in their affairs and doing it in an unconstitutional manner.

    But yes I think they would also be proud of our progress in civil rights.

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  25. myown says:

    Mervel, I agree with with you. The founders would be shocked that we spend more on military/defense than any other nation by far, that we are invading other countries, and that we are assasinating people (including US citizens) by remote control devices with nothing other than a President’s say so.

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  26. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Shocked that we were invading and occupying different nations?

    You mean like the Indian tribal nations in western NY, the Ohio valley, Tennessee and Kentucky and Georgia? ( I’m limiting myself here to areas stolen only by the Founders themselves but I know I’m missing stuff)

    What about the Monroe Doctrine which was used to lay claim to pretty much the whole continent on North America if we could take it?

    54-40 or Fight! (Sorry, that wasn’t a Founder)

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  27. Mervel says:

    So then Knuckle we have not made any progress we are doing the same rotten things with our government that we always have done.

    Remember who did all of these things, it was the government, of which the armed forces is the single biggest government entity.

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  28. Walker says:

    Mervel, be serious. Of course we’ve made progress, at least in some areas. There is nothing in government today as egregious as enshrining slavery in the Constitution.

    But our military-industrial complex, and its effects on world peace, comes pretty close.

    And the effect that huge corporations and immense individual wealth is having on our democracy is definitely not a Good Thing.

    So it’s the usual– progress on some fronts, backsliding in others. And yes, government is complicit in much that is evil, just as it is instrumental in much that is good. It will ever be thus.

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  29. Mervel says:

    Hey we agree!

    There have been a serious of a pieces on NPR about the impact of all of this money on how we govern. The interesting thing to me was that it was the legislators who sought out the lobbyists, not vice-versa. Essentially today, governing is a full time job of fundraising, you have to continually generate money to get elected. To generate money you have to find people that have money, and so the cycle of influence continues.

    I think it could be that we have become a herd mentality, propaganda is a two way street. To use propaganda effectively to reach 300 million people you need a lot of money.

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  30. Pete Klein says:

    Maybe limit the money you can spend (yours or other people’s) by how much you might get paid if you actually won?
    What person in their right mind would spend more money to get a job than they would make if they got it?

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  31. Mervel says:

    Maybe, businesses, industries and individuals are spending a lot of money to help these guys win, is it because they just love them and like them and want to see them win? Or is it an investment? I would vote for number 2.

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  32. Walker says:

    I came across a timely Facebook image today:

    We are the 99%
    • We are not against the rich. We are against using wealth to gain an unfair advantage.
    • We are not against corporations. We are against corporations governing us.
    •We are not against capitalism. We are against corruption in capitalism.
    •We are not against banks. We are against fraudulent banking practices.
    •We are not against investment markets. We are against legalized fraud in the markets.
    •We are not against democracy. We are against the sale of influence by our elected representatives.

    Kinda makes the whole OWS thing seem pretty respectable, eh?

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  33. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel,
    First, of course we have made progress. I just get my back up when people start putting The Founders on a pedestal. I have a great deal of respect for them, great men indeed, but they were flawed too. We can be BETTER than they were. And the stuff Walker said.

    As to why people spend money on political donations, if there is a reason you can think of to do it somebody is doing it for that reason. But the really big donors are doing it for some sort of personal benefit, on the whole. I heard a statistic that the return on investment of lobbying money is, on average, 2,000%

    Some of us have been calling for publically financed elections in order to get the money out of the political system for a long time. Even before the Citizens United ruling.

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  34. myown says:

    Walker, I like the 99% list of “grievances.”

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