Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

June 8, 2012

Public officials should be held to higher standard

By SUSAN TEBBEN
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — It is a sad time for Barren County government. That is an opinion that cannot be avoided. Yes, there are many good things happening in our county and the Glasgow Highland Games was a welcome break from the daily grind. But the government leaders need an intense look inward.

While our sheriff and three of his deputies are being investigated and potentially tried federally, the FBI is also being called to look at our jail and its leaders.

But at the very least, these are things that are out in the open.

What is even more unbelievable are the acts that are being glossed over, tossed under the table or ignored completely by our local leaders.

The hypocrisies that have been displayed in the last few weeks by our police chief Guy Turcotte and Barren County magistrate Chris Steward are only the tip of the iceberg.

Our local chief, and manager of our city law enforcement, has been leaving bills unpaid while he overspends on multiple lines of the budget, including travel for military surplus items, overtime and oil and lube for an aging fleet of cruisers.

Meanwhile, a maintenance garage is created specifically for police department vehicles at the end of College Street, despite the city being rife with automotive shops. It is not clear who works in the garage or if it has regular hours.

A magistrate who frequently claims the fiscal irresponsibility of others, like those that approved the building of the new Barren County Detention Center, is now seen to have been irresponsible himself, though he does not see it that way. Because he paid off his taxes, he said nothing has been lost by the county and has been quoted as saying he was fiscally responsible.

If this were the way of the world, credit card companies would not have late fees, credit scores would not fluctuate and no one would have any reason to stress about details like due dates and penalties.

Though what Steward and Turcotte have done can be easily rectified and traffic violations are not misdemeanor or felony charges, it does not distract from the point that they decided that they could do these things that no one else is allowed to do.

Whether it was because they had power or not, they made the conscious choice to avoid paying the price in some way or another.

On top of that, the leaders who have direct managerial power over Turcotte have chosen to allow these things to happen. Though Mayor Rhonda Trautman has often talked about her visits to the police department and meetings with Turcotte, the budget was still allowed to get out of hand and the bills were still not paid by the city in a timely manner.

But Trautman should have enough confidence in a person she chose to hire, with the approval of city council, to let him run his own budget and manage his department’s bills.

However, even after being offered proof of the budgetary shortfalls and past due bills, the mayor is still defending the chief. She told the Daily Times the GPD budget will even out with a lack of spending in other areas. She told the Daily Times the bills were eventually paid.

This week and the last few weeks have made me reflect on why I do what I do. It is not, as many people would love to believe, to aggravate and harass. It is to show that despite a position within the city or county and a small amount of power to influence governmental actions, the rules that government leaders are supposed to oversee cannot be overlooked by those very people. They should be held not only to the standard of private citizens, but should be held willingly to a higher standard.

Whatever power one’s title gives, it does not make him or her above the law, just as it does not make me above the law. I have to pay my rent, my utility bills and my taxes on time or suffer the penalty. I have to pay the ticket if I speed and fail to carry my license when I drive. Whatever excuses I gave would not write off my actions.

Public figures have even more of a responsibility to practice what they preach, because of the community depending on them to do what is right for us all.

A part of that responsibility should also be owning up to mistakes and not trying to talk one’s way out of it. Steward said it was not unusual for drivers to forget to pay their vehicle taxes on time after admitting he knew he had taxes owed on one vehicle he was caught driving.

Trautman has said the budget will all work out in the end. Turcotte has had no comment whatsoever.

Hypocrisy cannot be part of government, or there is no use for the government.

Susan Tebben is cops and courts reporter for the Glasgow Daily Times. She can be reached at stebben@glasgowdailytimes.com.