Writing an occasional column for this newspaper is not the reason I laud its investigative reporters for their outstanding work of late in exposing government corruption. Rather, I confess, the exercise is bittersweet.
While grateful for these watchdog efforts, as are you, I suspect, I'm saddened that such investigative work need be done at all.
Not because ours isn't a world of Shangri-La, but because there are just enough government employees who too often do too little to hold each other to account, and who do even less to provide access to a system of accountability for the people they serve. Instead, access is denied, accountability is thwarted and insularity fostered.
How, for example, could Manuel Lopez, the person at the center of a parks department scandal, have remained gainfully employed by the state while spending more than half his 23 years as a government employee on probation in connection with issues ranging from DUIs to sexual harassment allegations, to what may be his pièce de résistance, last year's $271,000 vacation buyout scam from which he himself benefited.
It very much appears that his only punishment would've been a demotion to the "paltry" salary of $113,000 had The Bee's Matt Weiser not uncovered the scandal.
For this scheme to reach fruition, someone somewhere had to decide two things: 1) Despite Lopez's lawbreaking past, this latest violation, unethical and possibly criminal, was not deemed grounds for dismissal, and 2) it wasn't divulged to the public.
It should've been both, but it took the actions of a different kind of public servant, a journalist, to make that happen.
How did Duane Wiles, a veteran Caltrans technician, continue to test public infrastructure for safety after his bosses discovered he'd falsified results on not one, but several projects? Who thought it acceptable to allow such a person to even last long enough to become a "veteran" Caltrans technician?
Were it not for the spotlight of The Bee's Charles Piller on questions surrounding the integrity of the new Bay Bridge foundation, you and I both know Wiles would still be employed, still conducting safety inspections.
As in the Lopez case, there was no excuse for the employment of this consistent violator, but the greater failure is that Caltrans happily chose inertia until embarrassed into action by exposure.
This "inertia culture" is blatantly personified in the reaction of state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, to California's Senate select committees. As The Bee's Jim Sanders reported Sunday, we're paying more than $5 million in annual salaries for staffers on committees that barely even meet. Of 27 Senate select committees 14 haven't held a single meeting either this year or last. The remaining 13 have met 24 times in the past two years barely averaging over two meetings a year.
LaMalfa's reaction? "There are a lot of select committees out there that don't do a lot."
Well, why didn't you say something before The Bee exposed this mockery to the public?
Gov. Jerry Brown bellowed that The Bee's coverage of Caltrans malfeasance borders on malpractice, a strange charge given his campaign pledge to cut waste, eliminate fraud and improve auditing of state agency practices.
Indeed, concealment is openly practiced. Last Friday, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg cut off a cable television broadcast of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee as it began a state-mandated public hearing on the pros and cons of four pending ballot measures, Propositions 30, 31, 38 and 39.
Boss Steinberg's office later said they didn't want anyone using recordings of the hearing in campaign advertising. Steinberg, who strongly backs Proposition 30, Brown's beggin'-and-pleadin'-for-your-money tax initiative, has apparently forgotten that it's not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it's the right of the public to hear and be informed.
How can anyone get on a soapbox about our old friends, waste, fraud and abuse, and then turn a blind eye when it occurs in their midst, or get defensive when it's revealed on their watch?
Why would any public worker shrug off behavior they know taxpayers would find grotesque were they to learn of it?
Why must revelation always come down to confession rather than disclosure?
It's not enough to punish violators, or to know where money is wasted. The greater sin is the taint of enablers who knew and looked the other way, who glossed things over and approved a promotion, who resigned themselves not to bother because it was easier than firing someone.
Silence is consent. Forgiveness should not be granted after the fact. Practitioners of such conduct should be banished from the public sector.
Or can you justify relieving yourself of any responsibility to speak out? What is the moral obligation of a government worker in the face of provable government corruption?
It's not like you don't know where to find a reporter.
Bruce Maiman is a former radio show host living in Rocklin. Reach him at email@example.com.