Wednesday, October 07, 2009

With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for...

...Politics. Yeah, we've got trouble right here in Union. And I hate talking politics.

As widely reported (link), Former Union county sheriff Howard Wells and four others have been indicted for various alleged crimes. (These are on top of two high-profile convictions last year: our former mayor, Bruce Morgan, and former City of Union Building and Zoning director Jeffrey Lawson for extortion and lying to Federal prosecutors.)

Though Wells' name is on top of all of the headlines due to his high profile during the Susan Smith affair, the bigger story locally is that of Donnie Betenbaugh, who faces up to 618 years imprisonment and up to $13 million in fines if convicted of all 40 counts. Former tax assessor Bill Randall faces similar charges (but apparently lower maximum sentences), including accusations of conspiracy, extortion, soliciting and accepting bribes, money laundering, structuring financial transactions to evade federal reporting requirements and knowingly allowing the tax assessor’s office to be used a “stash house” for the storage and distribution of cocaine and hydrocodone. Go ahead and read about the rest, I'm not going to simply repeat the story.

Now, let's be clear that all of the men deny the charges, and plan to follow the legal avenues available to them, etc. Nevertheless, Gov. Mark Sanford has suspended Betenbaugh from his position as County Supervisor (Donnie is the only defendant who is currently in public office).

And since Sanford's name is in there, I suppose I'll digress for a moment and talk about him.

It's one thing when there's a crook or a degenerate in office and you know what he is. Example: Bill Clinton was a horn-dog. We all know that. Tin-foil hat conspiracies to the contrary, I don't think, though that he was out to do anything deliberately corrupt. (After all, people can disagree with your political opinions without being evil). It's quite another thing when someone takes office on the premise that he is better than that. And then turns out not to be. Clinton kept his affair in the White House... at least he was on the job. Sanford was derelict as well as morally corrupt. His moral failure is a far bigger disappointment. Sanford's extra-marital affair was an act of moral turpitude. Nevertheless, he's declined to leave office.

Now, I hate hypocrisy. The reason I'd like to see Sanford voluntarily leave office is the same reason I wanted to see Clinton out of office for his misdemeanors. But Sanford won't leave. That, of course, doesn't mean he's above invoking turpitude when suspending Donnie Betenbaugh. Again, let me be clear. Donnie should be suspended. But Sanford should also leave, and stop playing the hypocrite.

Which brings me back to the local issue. Wells, Randall, and Betenbaugh were all elected with the understanding that they were better than that. They were going to be above reproach... on the square. But they weren't. And that is a huge let-down. Now, this isn't a partisan criticism. I've voted for each of these men, though we don't belong to the same political party (actually, in Union party affiliation is a somewhat nebulous concept... it's not unusual for a strict conservative to run on a Democratic ticket just so they can get their name in the primary). And while I'd like to say, as some do, "They're good men who lost their way. Let's pray for them, that they can make a comeback," I just can't bring myself to do it. These people held themselves up as adhering to a higher standard. And looking at the positions they hold or have held -- Howard Wells, former sheriff; Donnie Betenbaugh, County Supervisor; Bill Randall, Tax Assessor -- there is simply no way in God's green Earth that they can claim mitigating circumstances should the charges be proven true. Wells' charges are probably the least of the bunch, amounting to a bit of loan-sharking and cover-up of the same... but damn it, he was the Sheriff.

So the best I can do is withhold all speculation and hope that the courts find one way or another. Let the matter go to trial and let the court decide based on the facts. If they are acquitted, then heartfelt congratulations are in order... but if they're convicted, I couldn't be satisfied with less than the maximum sentence.

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