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Hearse-Chasing Hockey-Playing Luzerne County Rules

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Luzerne County Courthouse, the hammer-headed sharks of corruption are circling once again.

Concerned funeral directors are pointing to a county deputy coroner and accusing him of chasing hearses for his private funeral parlor business, claiming that 30 deputy coroners also are funeral directors with an inside track to the corpses.

A local funeral director called Nancy and L.A. this morning on WILK News Radio and said the number is as high as 40.

And why do you think that’s the case?

So the friendly undertakers can always have a trained professional ready to show up at the scene of the crime or death by natural causes? So they can better serve the public in times of grief? Or because they have an inside track for business profit and personal gain that most undertakers would kill for if only they had the right political connections?

Political connections, no matter how small, make a county worker special. Even underpaid courthouse clerks know they’re special. They likely wouldn’t be working if they weren’t somehow connected.

That’s why the Penguins hockey organization offered ticket discounts to county workers as well as free hats and fast food meals. Special privilege, however meager, is still special privilege, a way to gloat over the have-nots because you have something they lack.

Something is always better than nothing in the Luzerne County political pecking order.

And, despite the lessons supposedly learned from the federal public corruption investigation that netted more than three dozen elected and appointed public officials in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, good-for-nothing county officials remain masters at the payoff.

The county really needs only one coroner who could hire a handful of public servants to help him with the job. The people in turn should carefully watch the coroner and his band during his or her tenure. The same goes for the coroners’ helpers.

As for gifts, the rule is simple: No gifts.

Nothing for free. Public servants serve the public and do not serve themselves. Period. End of sentence. End of story. Anybody caught violating the rule goes to the end of the unemployment line.

No free lunches. No holiday cookies sent over by the bank or the insurance company that wants county business. No eggnog sent over by the tanker full by county vendors. No free booze. No, none, nada, no way. Violate this rule at your own risk. How difficult is that?

Truly, we are getting nowhere fast. Public perception is not what it must be for honesty to be the best policy. And, if this is the new Luzerne County government brought to taxpayers courtesy of the Home Role council members, what is so different from the old government? OK, so at least an official ethics policy exists. But if home rulers can’t agree on what constitutes a gift, are they not failing in their duty to make progressive change that should be as simple as some of them are?

I used to thin k that knowing the difference between right and wrong was easy. Then I moved to Luzerne County in 1985 and saw an entirely different set of rules for the rulers. Few insiders got arrested. Fewer got reprimanded. Fewer challenged the bad behavior because that’s the way it’s always been.

After 17 years I moved away, leaving it all behind. As fate would have it, I returned, this time to live in Lackawanna County. One day during the holiday in 2007, when I stopped by the Luzerne County Courthouse for a visit, I almost tripped over a massive platter of cookies that somebody had placed outside the door of a county judge.

I went on the air and asked what kind of mindless judge would accept even a platter of cookies – a platter piled high on the polished floor for all to see, a gourmet gift that announced influence and accessibility – an offering that showed that even the mere appearance of impropriety, a cornerstone of the judicial code of conduct, would be so cavalierly set aside.

The sweet cookie image hit me shortly after the judge outside whose door the platter appeared got indicted on public corruption charges. That judge, former Luzerne County President Judge Michael Conahan is now serving 17 years in a federal penitentiary.

I’ll bet that cookie platters still show up at the courthouse in the coming weeks.

Who knows what else elected and appointed Luzerne County officials have already accepted – including members of the new home rule council? Who knows what other gifts that might not be viewed as gifts have already been given and received? Who knows where this all will end?

Hopefully not in the public trust graveyard. Honesty must never die. Good citizens must come together and pound nails into the career coffins of sleazy public servants who continue to even minimally abuse the public trust. Lug them off  to their final resting places and let the rest of us live in peace.

“Ah, Jesus, doesn’t he look like himself?” is no longer an acceptable response at the drunken wake of a ghost employee.

More fitting is, “Thanks be to God, at least he didn’t get indicted.”






Tags :  
Topics : Law_Crime
Social :
Locations : Hearse-chasing Hockey-playingL.a.LackawannaLackawanna CountyNancy
People : Michael Conahan


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