How Pols Really See Voters: ATMs
I need to draw your attention to two extraordinary pieces of reporting by Post Metro reporters that make it crystal clear just what your elected officials really think of you: You're nothing but a cash machine, dispensing dollars to all comers.
This week's remarkable piece by Cheryl Thompson on the way Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson and several members of the County Council use their taxpayer-provided credit cards to pay for all manner of personal purchases reveals utterly brazen abuses of the public trust. As Thompson reported, Johnson, who was reelected with hardly a second thought by Prince George's voters, charged the taxpayers for his hotel room while attending his father-in-law's funeral, for dinner at Hooter's in Florida (after being caught, he then claimed it was the first time he'd ever been to a Hooters. At least he didn't claim he was conducting his own investigation into how women are demeaned!), and flew business class to Senegal ($6,000) on your tab. And then Johnson has the gall to tell the Post that "I always fly business class or first class. I think the people of Prince George's County expect me to. I don't think they expect me to be riding in a seat with four across and I'm in the middle."
Oh, no, that would be just horrific. Can you imagine what it would be like to sit in the middle, I mean, between ordinary members of the great unwashed masses? The mere thought of such a predicament is bone-chilling.
As if David Harrington, the Democratic Prince George's council member who made a public show of his support for Republican Michael Steele in this month's Senate race, didn't already have enough troubles for that act of betrayal to his own political party, it now turns out that Harrington is also not shy about charging his dry cleaning, video rentals and even airplane tickets for his son to the county's taxpayers. The county's beancounters contend that Harrington reimbursed the county treasury for those charges, but they couldn't come up with any paperwork to back up that assertion.
There was not even a pretense of paying back the taxpayers in the case of County Council member Thomas Hendershot, who routinely charges the county's residents for his annual vacations in Ocean City. Here's his deal: He goes to a conference of local officials, which the county pays for, and he rents a six-bedroom, five-bath house that runs $2,650 and charges the county for half of it. His theory is that the county would otherwise be paying for a hotel, so this way, he gets to stay a few extra days. There's perhaps some merit in that explanation, but then Hendershot loses credibility, as he confirms that when he has taken his wife on county trips, he has billed Prince George's for her meals. "She has to eat," he said.
Well, if you think that's bad stuff, check out Dan Keating's story on the D.C. Cable TV office blowing $6.5 million on a technical upgrade so fabulous, so wildly over the top that other publicly funded cable channels around the country were flabbergasted at the waste. The District is spending the money on high definition TV equipment that is so pricey and fancy that the director of Boston's city cable operation said, "The cost would be huge without a measurable improvement in picture quality. . . . Our capital planning/budget office would probably shoot me," said Boston's Michael J. Lynch.
This upgrade comes along with a $996,000 no-bid consulting contract with a company that will now use the city's new studio--remember, paid for by the D.C. taxpayers--to produce its own for-profit programming. The city will get a cut of the profits, but still, what we have here is the D.C. taxpayers being forced to go into the TV production business, with no public benefit of any kind, purely to support a private venture that will then have an unfair competitive advantage over private companies trying to make it on their own. Federal law requires that cable franchise fees be used for public service and government access.
Where's the outcry from the newly elected mayor and council members on this?
And there's more: Keating has learned that the company getting this sweet deal, Mason Media, has photos on its web site of District-owned TV equipment as if it belonged to Mason Media, including DC's satellite truck, on which the company superimposed a Mason media logo.
Sorry to have caused any pre-Thanksgiving indigestion, but I figured you should see this now, before the big meal.
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