After getting help from outside agencies to root out corruption, the Valley's officials and residents must now take that responsibility, said the state's highest-ranking ethics official.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite a history of political corruption, the Mahoning Valley has "good ethical roots and they're beginning to show," said the Ohio Ethics Commission's executive director.
"People in the Mahoning Valley are starting to stand up and say they want a change," said David Freel, the state's highest-ranking ethics official.
Freel, a Niles native, was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the Citizens' League of Greater Youngstown's annual dinner at the Youngstown Club. The league is an organization that speaks out against political corruption and organized crime.
Freel acknowledges that the Valley is different from the rest of the state and has had more than its fair share of political corruption.
"But for the Valley to think it's alone in problems is not the case," he said. "The focus is greater here because there's been a concentration of resources invited into the Valley to look at serious and significant issues. Take a look at the list of lawyers, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, public officials and those who did business with them. A lot has been exposed."
Responsibility: In recent years, largely because of outside intervention from state and federal agencies, the Valley is being cleansed of political corruption, Freel added.
Now that it has been the benefactor of that assistance, it is time for the Valley to clean itself up, Freel said.
"The challenge is to make the difficult choices," he continued. "It's up to you to create the expectation of having the highest level of ethics. The responsibility of changing the climate in a community is with its people. We're beginning to see change here."
Freel is encouraged that the tolerance level for people regarding political corruption is not what it used to be. He specifically pointed to the former Mahoning County Bar Association leadership, saying it did a poor job rooting out corruption in the Valley.
The people of the Valley were brought up on good values and high ethical standards, Freel said.
Vigilance: But for far too long, the Valley has not done a good job of monitoring itself, said Lowell J. Satre, citizens' league president.
"Given the number of public officials found guilty of wrongdoing, we have needed the support from others," he said. "But we should be doing it ourselves."
Those engaging in political corruption felt comfortable doing it in the Valley, Freel said.
"That comfort is waning, although it is not gone," he said. "The challenge is to continue to make the difficult choices. The people of this area have to take ownership over democratic institutions by being informed and active."