DID DOZENS OF corrupt public officials from Northeastern Pennsylvania accomplish their dirty deals with shakedowns or with handshakes?
Did they prey on unwitting business owners? Or did they discover, once in office, plenty of unethical sorts lining up and offering cash for government contracts and other favors?
Are the region's political bosses that daunting and strong?
Or are too many of our business owners that weak? That desperate for work?
Those questions have crossed many people's minds, and lips, as they watched a stream of former public servants – including ex-commissioners from Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, disgraced Luzerne County judges and other bigwigs – sent to prison for illegal actions. Few of their partners in crime – or, should we say, victims – have been similarly punished or, in some cases, even identified.
That's, in part, due to the federal legal system. Prosecutors trying to root out corruption understandably give higher priority to pursuing and punishing elected officials – the ones who wield the power, abuse the public trust and ultimately cheat the taxpayers. To hook these "big fish," prosecutors sometimes allow the small fry to get immunity for their cooperation, to plea to lesser crimes or to slip away.
Maybe the law needs to be changed. Perhaps penalties could be increased for businessmen and businesswomen who shirk their legal obligation to report public officials who lean on them for kickbacks.
More immediately, however, residents of Luzerne County need to pressure their chamber of commerce chiefs, top business leaders and other influential community members to address what appears to be a largely unchecked, pay-to-play atmosphere.
Ask what they have done to kick corruption from within their ranks. Demand that greater emphasis be placed on reporting procedures and self-policing efforts pertaining to suspected corruption. Urge discussions on ethics and fairness.
Force a change in the culture now. Or, later, you can forget about things operating any better.
Are the region's
political bosses that daunting and strong?
Or are too many of our business owners that weak?