THE CYNIC assumes a sign could not possibly be enough.
Does anyone really think convicted ex-Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan would have looked at a sign warning against accepting gifts and decided to turn down the FedEx box stuffed with cash sent by Attorney Robert Powell?
Would fellow ex-judge and convicted felon Mark Ciavarella have looked at the travel magazine stuffed with $5,000 from developer Robert Mericle, turned to the sign and thought Hmmm, better give this back? After all, Ciavarella had been receiving gifts from Mericle for years – starting with, of all things, Cabbage Patch dolls.
And Conahan and Ciavarella clearly knew it was wrong to take millions from Mericle as finder's fees for their part in helping Mericle land the job of building private juvenile detention centers for Powell and his partner. They laundered the money; they didn't bother reporting it on their taxes.
So cynicism is understandable after the FBI exposed such corrupt receipt of gifts. And those are just the highest-profile cases. Some 30 people were nabbed in the ongoing federal corruption, from schools, courts, and the county commissioners' office, and more.
As reported in Monday's edition of The Times Leader, the county has been posting signs that note County employees are prohibited from receiving any form of objects of appreciation or monetary gifts from outside sources. Odds are excellent most taxpayers are responding with a yeah, that'll work.
The signs are a reminder of the county's new ethics code, one of the key components of the new home rule charter that voters approved, changing the county from a three-commissioner form of government to one run by a council of 11 members who appoint a full-time county manager.
And frankly, it is working. As Monday's story noted, gift baskets sent to county offices were either returned or donated to Ruth's Place homeless shelter. Similarly, last year several council members gave bus passes from the county transportation authority to Ruth's Place.
Reminding public employees they cannot accept gifts for their work is insufficient, of course. Transparency and vigilance are essential. People have to know the rules will be enforced. More important, they need to feel the culture of corruption truly is being replaced with a culture of ethics.
So, no, signs are not enough.
But they are a good start.