By Todd Franko (Contact)
Published July 2, 2008
As we celebrate the declaration of citizens 232 years ago who sacrificed their own lives to map the path toward true independence, we are struggling this week through confounding examples of modern leadership.
Paul Gains and Jimmy Hughes are two top law enforcement officials in our region, the prior serving as county prosecutor and the latter serving as chief of Youngstown police.
Both have distinct challenges in front of them. Both also have an ability to deliver a greater good to their citizens who ultimately must remain as their top concern.
Hughes lost one of his officers in a tragic car accident two weeks ago. On Monday, we all learned what the Youngstown police knew almost immediately: the officer was drinking and driving. His blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit.
Complicating the situation was that he was out drinking with other officers who were celebrating a birthday. He was in a city-owned vehicle. And he was on a paid on-call status, which required him to be in condition to work.
It’s a tragedy first. It’s a policy nightmare second.
From the beginning, the two realities competed for the public’s interest.
The officer paid the worst price possible for his actions. But he flagrantly disregarded the laws he upholds and his employer’s policies, and he did so in the company of other officers.
Within nine hours of the accident, the chief and Mayor Jay Williams conducted a press conference that aired live on TV. Since Monday’s revelation, Hughes has been silent, as has the mayor, about procedural steps to be taken in the wake of this tragedy. They had 10 days between the time of the incident and the release of the blood-alcohol report to prepare a public message as to new department procedures in the wake of the facts.
This is not something that can go without public discussion. In the absence of Hughes and Williams talking aloud, they are allowing the public and city staff to steer the “this is how things run in the police department” conversation at the coffee counters, water coolers and even in comments on this Web site.
Silence is not making the matter go away. The public’s list of questions is only growing.
Gains is in a different predicament.
He got hauled into a mess created by Canfield Township trustees when one of their own, Paul Moracco, resigned as a trustee only to be hired a couple of weeks later by his comrades to a $60,000 per year job they had just created.
That’s such a bold and stupid move, I imagine Marc Dann, Leo Jennings and Anthony Gutierrez are readying “thank-you” cards to Canfield for getting them off of the top rung of outlandish public acts.
So Canfield can clearly not trust their trustees to act in the public’s best interest. Their hope rests with Gains, who acts as the top legal authority for all local government.
On Monday, a day after our Sunday editorial outlined the illegality of the hiring, Moracco declined the job.
At one point Monday, trustees called Gains — employing the standard of all shaky government leaders: “When your conscience and ethics abandon you, hope that a legal loophole exists to cover you.”
Gains said he told Canfield officials what the law was. He wouldn’t tell the public what else he instructed the trustees, citing “attorney-client privileges.”
The last I checked, Gains’ clients are ultimately the taxpayers of Mahoning County.
That seems an odd notion to forget in an election year.
True, in a legal sense, he is the lawyer for the trustees. But he is paid by the people and he has long been silent on certain issues, hiding behind the notion that he fears he could lose his law license for telling the people who pay his salary information he cited to others feeding at the public trough.
We are certain someone with the savvy of a prosecutor could easily circumvent such a well-marked mine field and serve twin masters: the code and the taxpayers.
Further, it is questionable where Gains’ attorney-client concern was before Canfield’s decision. It was no secret that Moracco applied for the job. A more assertive “attorney-client” role by the prosecutor’s team would have been to advise them that they were violating the law.
The easiest way out of daunting predicaments, in both the cases of Hughes and Gains, is to be silent.
In 1776, our forefathers chose not to be silent, risking far more than a mere threat of a legal sanction or an embarrassing acknowledgment. Why don’t our leaders today follow that example?