The charges against Board of Supervisors President Jerome Wyatt were a surprise — only because we were told by a credible source a couple of weeks ago that another supervisor was being investigated by state Auditor Shad White’s office. Other people who are in positions of authority said they believed it was yet another supervisor who was going to be arrested.
A healthy suspicion of those we elect to office is a good thing. They need to be accountable to the people who have put them in power and provide them with their tax dollars.
But is it healthy for people to be suspicious of that many elected officials? Can we make progress with those kinds of clouds over officials’ heads?
Across the state, supervisors are the officials most commonly called “corrupt” — sometimes with good reason — because they have their “own” operating budgets and a whole lot of power. A little dirt here and a little gravel there can make some powerful people happy.
What Wyatt is accused of — putting money that was supposed to be for a youth mentoring program to personal use — could be easily explained, or it could be the result of his having been in office too long. He’s in his seventh term as supervisor. It’s not unusual for people who have been in office that long to start blurring the lines between what’s personal and what belongs to the public.
We have no doubt that Wyatt was trying to do a good thing, offering incentives to help at-risk youth. But the bottom line is, a state investigation showed that he didn’t do things the right way, and he enriched himself by a little more than $2,800.
Whether it’s $28 or $28 million, public officials are accountable for every dime. That’s as it should be. Not every misappropriation or mistake falls under the umbrella of “corruption,” though. There isn’t always a grand conspiracy.
We know, without a doubt, that greater abuses of power and mismanagement/misuse/theft of public funds is going on. We applaud White and his investigators for chipping away at it, one official at a time. One arrest in a county can have a sobering effect on other local officials and perhaps prevent future incidents.
Wyatt’s arrest underscores the need for Citizens Against Corruption, whose first meeting is set for Thursday night at Quality Inn (the old Ramada). Officials need to know that people are watching them, demanding accountability.
But members of the group need to take a rational approach, not a radical one, in order to be taken seriously by the candidates and the citizenry and, ultimately, to have any power and influence. We urge members to keep that in mind. If you’re known as a conspiracy theorist and think “everyone” is corrupt and you’re loud and obnoxious about it, please offer your silent approach to the organization. Otherwise, the movement will implode and those who have figured out how to quietly play the game will stay in power.