Brian Sandford: Public officials behaving badly is nothing new
December 14, 2013
Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was sentenced to three months of home confinement and three years of probation Monday for harassing women during his short tenure.
His stunning fall came after details emerged of despicable behavior — kissing a woman against her will, putting another in a headlock and grabbing a third woman's behind. It also came amid reports of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's bizarre behavior — admitting to smoking crack cocaine and seeming to defend the decision by saying he was "blackout drunk" at the time, allegedly suggesting a reporter was a pedophile and running into a Toronto City Council member during a vote to limit his powers.
These obviously are high-profile cases of severe misbehavior by public officials, but large North American cities aren't the only places where unusual such things happen. As I read about Filner's sentence, I thought about smaller-scale oddities involving elected officials that have happened in my previous homes.
The most unusual came three years ago in Olympia, Wash. Mayor Pro Tem Joe Hyer was two days from being informally selected as the county treasurer and clearly was a rising political star. Then my newspaper at the time learned he'd been arrested on suspicion of selling marijuana to a confidential informant.
Hyer later pleaded guilty to a felony charge of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. A second shocker came when we learned later who'd gone to the police: a fellow city councilman whom Hyer had considered a mentor. That councilman never did give us a clear answer about what motivated him to turn Hyer in. Hyer was sentenced to 10 days in jail with work release and 240 hours of community service.
In Tacoma, Wash., the assessor-treasurer at the time, Dale Washam, was accused of retaliating against his employees, wasting government resources and violating his oath of office. Washam, known for boorish behavior, cost Pierce County a boatload of money as employees quit and then sued, claiming mistreatment.
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Washam wasn't re-elected, due in part to my newspaper's stories detailing the lawsuits and claims. He was the target of a large recall effort that ended up failing, and I learned just how much one public official can gum up the works — and how difficult it can be to remove that official.
My first experience with a local official behaving badly was back in Medina County, Ohio, in 1994. A man joined a local school board at 19, a year after graduating. He ended up behaving immaturely numerous times, even sitting in on one of his little sister's classes in a veiled attempt to intimidate her teacher.
I don't need to remind you what happened with Steven Brooks this year. That saga continues; he awaits trial in California after allegedly leading police on a chase and scuffling with him the day he was expelled from our Assembly.
In every case I experienced, the newspaper I worked for cast a spotlight on the offender in question. It's a reminder of how vital newspapers' watchdog role is; it's also a reminder of how important it is for voters to carefully vet candidates. We have no interest in telling you whom to vote for, but we do want to make sure we give you as much information as we can. That's our job.
Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.