Mahoning County Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock is right about one thing: she is a political target. But it has been that way ever since she first became a commissioner in April 1999 through appointment by the county Democratic Party's precinct committeemen and women. So you would think that Sherlock would conduct her public business in a manner that could withstand intense scrutiny from even her most ardent foes.
But in recent days, as details of her business travels and her use of county credit cards have surfaced, it is clear that the commissioner has not been careful about crossing every "t" and dotting every "i." Indeed, by placing the blame on either a travel agency or a hotel for questionable credit card charges, Sherlock has merely added fuel to the fire.
So many questions have been raised, that an internal probe of her actions and a general review of Mahoning County government's policies pertaining to travel and credit card use are not enough.
Ethics: We would urge Sherlock and her two colleagues, commissioners Edward Reese and David Ludt, to request a special investigation by the Ohio Auditor's Office and the Ohio Ethics Commission. Why? For two reasons: one, there needs to be a definitive opinion as to whether the commissioner misused the cards; and two, an interpretation of Ohio's laws is required with regard to the behavior of public officials, especially when it comes to business travel that doubles as a family vacation.
The staff of Auditor Jim Petro's office and the ethics commission should be able to answer any questions raised by the press and others in the Sherlock matter.
For their part, the county commissioners, along with Administrator Gary Kubic, should revisit the policy that prevents the three top elected officials in the county from having government credit cards. Why shouldn't travel cards be issued in the names of Reese, Ludt and Sherlock and kept in a safe until needed for use on an authorized trip?
Report: In addition, all travel should be approved before it is taken. And to ensure that taxpayers aren't paying for a vacation disguised as a business trip, any county employee who attends a conference or meetings that last more than a day should have to submit a written report and a time sheet.
We recognize the value in attending conferences or seminars at which important issues are discussed and solutions to the myriad problems confronting government formulated, but those who attend have a responsibility to share what they've learned with their colleagues in government.