9/1/2017 4:27:00 PM EDITORIAL: Our leaders must end loyalty to criminals
Times of Northwest Indiana
It's a philosophy long infecting Northwest Indiana government and politics, and it must be ushered into the abyss.
Time and again, we hear public statements, witness official actions or read public letters of some of our elected leaders espousing support for politicos or connected friends who've been caught breaking the law.
We saw it most recently in the way Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura initially handled fallout from the guilty plea of the city's former public parks and animal shelter Director Martin Jakubowski.
On Thursday, Jakubowski, 48, admitted in Hammond federal court he supported the illegal dog-fighting efforts of an Illinois man, who recently pleaded guilty in a dog-fighting conspiracy.
At times, Jakubowski used the auspices of the city animal shelter to support the dog-figthing efforts by housing — and at times providing medication to — dogs used in fighting.
Upon hearing the news of Jakubowski's guilty plea late last week, Mayor Stahura referred to it as "one stupid mistake."
"He is still employed, and I intend to keep him employed," Stahura said last week, noting Jakubowski had resigned from the animal control portion of his employment but would retain employment as the parks director.
The mayor went on to say Jakubowski's good qualities as a public employee over the years outweighed the negative.
Critics from the Region and abroad erupted with outrage, with many rightly taking Stahura to task for not immediately firing Jakubowski from city employment.
It was clear, by his own admission in federal court, Jakubowski violated the public trust all government employees are bound to follow by claiming a taxpayer-funded paycheck.
Following the public outcry, Stahura seemed to change course, announcing the city and Jakubowski had decided it best for the parks director to resign.
The problem is Stahura never should have been so quick to defend Jakubowski in the first place.
The mayor subsequently has said he was blindsided by the guilty plea and didn't have time to fully formulate a response late last week.
But surely the mayor and his staff knew this case was pending in federal court. The end result couldn't have been that much of a surprise.
We appreciate that Jakubowski is no longer working for the city. Such should be the case for any public employee, elected or otherwise, who betrays the trust or tarnishes the reputation of public institutions with criminal behavior.
We also acknowledge Stahura has done a number of good things to elevate his city's economic development and quality of life — actions we've lauded in multiple past editorials.
We also know he's not alone in espousing misguided loyalty to those who don't deserve it.
In other cases, we've seen sitting elected officials file official letters with the court, seeking leniency for friends who've committed crimes against taxpayers.
We've witnessed members of a government body elevate a colleague to a position of higher authority in the wake of that official admitting to battering his wife.
And we've seen numerous examples of politically connected convicts, often whose crimes were against public institutions, be hired on to public payrolls after completing prison sentences.
Though they may publicly deny they approve of the actual behavior, apologists for those who've perpetuated public corruption are themselves providing tacit approval for the acts.
When a public employee or elected steward admits to violating public trust, only one entity — the public — deserves the loyalty and support of the government leaders who remain.
That support is shown by terminating employment and disavowing the responsible party or parties, not by pledging solidarity with admitted or convicted criminals.