On the surface, the lesson from Luzerne County Controller Walter Griffith’s resignation seems simple: If you plan to expose wrongdoing, don’t do wrong yourself.
Griffith and his supporters argue his dogged pursuit of truth prompted prominent residents to target him, and in Luzerne County that’s not a hard sell. But even if so, Griffith provided his enemies with effective ammunition by secretly and illegally recording conversations with people on three separate occasions.
If you try to expose lawbreakers by breaking the law, however noble and innocent your intentions, you defeat yourself.
But if you look more closely, there are other issues exposed, other lessons to be mulled.
Consider that Griffith won the Republican party nomination for his re-election by a wide margin despite the charges against him being widely known. While one could cynically point to this as another example of public just not paying attention when voting, the more likely interpretation is that many so crave a real independent watchdog in Luzerne County government they were willing to overlook a few transgressions by someone they otherwise trust. Old school politicians should take note.
Given that, Griffith’s downfall raises more questions.
Are voters too quick to embrace the promise of an avowed outsider while ignoring qualifications? It is no reflection on auto mechanics, but recall that was Griffith’s profession prior to becoming controller, not a likely place to find someone nuanced in wiretapping laws.
Why do Luzerne County residents seem doomed to one of two choices: A lapdog controller beholden to party powers, or a well-intentioned but inexperienced outsider who can be thwarted by those powers or tripped up by his own eagerness?
Even Griffith’s resignation offers fodder for debate. He said the decision was primarily financial: He couldn’t afford to put up a legal fight against both criminal charges and a civil suit. Yet an effective defense seems improbable at best, and it’s easy to argue his resignation was the right thing to do because staying would have cast a shadow over the November election and the office itself.
The real lesson may be this: Viewing Griffith’s rise and fall in simple terms may only make it harder to fix Luzerne County’s complex problems.