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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Earlier action might have prevented messy public spat over county car

Allen County Commissioner Linda Bloom speaks during the dedication of the $30 million extension of Maplecrest Road in 2012. (News-Sentinel file photo)<br />
Allen County Commissioner Linda Bloom speaks during the dedication of the $30 million extension of Maplecrest Road in 2012. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 09:01 pm
In criminology, the "broken window theory" is the belief that failure to punish petty crimes like throwing a brick through a pane of glass encourages even more serious behavior. The theory may apply to politics as well and was on all-too-public display this week in the form of the unfortunate but necessary spat among the Allen County commissioners over — of all things — a 9-year-old Chevrolet Impala. As I reported Tuesday, Commissioners Nelson Peters and Therese Brown sent fellow Commissioner Linda Bloom a letter Feb. 8 reminding her of the need to set an appropriate example for county employees and the public by obeying the policy enacted Jan. 27 requiring her to turn in the vehicle. Monday's deadline came and went (the car has since been returned), and Brown acknowledged the dispute could further strain relations among the three officials who earn $71,000 a year as county government's executive and legislative branches.

Did it have to come to this? Bloom has been a commissioner since 1995, but the past several years have been filled with numerous warning signs that, if heeded, might have avoided or at least mitigated this week's confrontation.

In late 2008, for example, County Council voted to cut the commissioners' salaries in half after one member labeled the office "dysfunctional." Council changed its mind a month later, but only after member Cal Miller pointedly asked Bloom, Peters and then-Commissioner Bill Brown whether they would promise to give taxpayers a full day's work in return. Yes, they all said.

Why would a sharp attorney like Miller ask a seemingly obvious question? A letter sent by an anonymous department head scolding council members for their original vote hinted at the answer. "Instead of nailing one commissioner who is useless, who is basically a ghost employee . . . you take the other commissioners down with her. Not one of you has the courage to call a spade a spade." At the time, Bloom was the only "her" on the board of commissioners.

Late County Council member Roy Buskirk clarified things a bit when he unsuccessfully challenged Bloom in 2010, suggesting voters should support him because "I'll work full time. There are many functions she just doesn't show up for. It's embarrassing."

After voters soundly rejected a proposal to replace the three Ccommissioners with a single county executive in 2014, Peters supported a plan to make officials more accountable by saying "We don't traditionally get three commissioners . . . at meetings. When you get that level of disengagement  . . . we need to be leaders."

And just last year I reported how Bloom had been spotted at New Haven Canal Days and Hoagland Days despite having attended just two of the board's mostly weekly meetings as of June. Bloom had undergone leg surgery earlier in the year and attended 14 of 2016's remaining 24 meetings and has attended three of six board meetings so far this year, but is reportedly seldom seen in the commissioners' office in Citizens Square. Last fiscal year, no doubt in part because of her injury that still requires use of a walker, Bloom recorded just 2,000 miles of official use. Peters and Brown suggested, correctly, that another county employee might put the car to more-productive use.

But her use of a county vehicle had come under scrutiny in 2002 when Bloom received a speeding ticket near Warsaw, where she was supposedly meeting with officials who had no record of such a meeting. Bloom later explained she was inspecting bridge designs that might be used in Allen County. Even so, when the county bought tracking devices for its vehicles in 2012, Bloom and Brown overruled Peters and unwisely exempted elected officials.

Bloom is correct when she insists a commissioner does not have to be in the office to do the job effectively. I spend most of my time out of the office because that's where the news is. But if I didn't produce stories, my bosses would be right to question my performance. In the same way I've suggested to Bloom's co-workers and Republican Party officials over the years that they owe it to taxpayers to ensure elected officials are earning their pay and to alert the public if they're not. It's mostly been an exercise in futility.

"It's incumbent on people (with complaints) to come forward," GOP Chairman Steve Shine told me in 2009. "(Bloom's) job performance has been validated by voters." But Shine knows better than anyone that, in a county-wide race, Republicans are almost guaranteed victory. Shouldn't the party do what it can to field the best possible candidates, especially when warnings are issued cryptically or voters aren't paying attention?

We are all ultimately responsible for our own actions, but as the makers and enforcers of rules officials can't be allowed to flaunt them with impunity. It might have been less painful for all concerned if somebody had simply broken the window on that Chevy a long time ago — and done something about it.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.



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