I know they’re only a vocal minority but, when combined with the host of folks who are too busy keeping up with life’s demands to speak up, the people who ascribe every perceived shortfall in local government to corrupt elected officials have a disproportionate impact. And that’s a shame because it distracts attention away from the underlying causes of many of the shortfalls, which is the failure of the drivable suburban paradigm.
Having previously wielded Sherlock Holmes to push back against those who embrace the pervasive corruption fantasy, I now have statistics to further buttress my argument.
Academicians at Winthrop University and the University of Missouri have dug deeply into a crime database to create a statistical profile of government corruption. Not only has the rate of corruption been declining for three decades, but the great majority of cases involve public employees at the federal and local levels. Elected officials make up only two percent of the corruption cases.
If your mayor isn’t helping your town out of the drivable suburban morass, he may still be blissfully incompetent, but he’s statistically unlikely to be a pocket-lining crook who’s helping to create the morass.
Although one person’s experience adds little to the statistical information compiled by the two universities, I’ll confirm that, in my years of interacting with local governments, I can’t think of a single case in which I’ve personally sniffed inappropriate behavior from an elected or appointed official. On the other hand, I’ve noted dubious actions by several local government employees, from suspicious property tax assessments to theft of government services. And there was one high-ranking city employee (not in the North Bay!) who engaged in activities so odd that I still hesitate to put them into writing.
Albeit not consistent with my limited observations, it was also interesting to note that the study found Federal programs, by which Federal funds are disbursed locally, are a prime site for corruption.
Although unrelated to the reasons usually put forth by StrongTowns, the fact is additional support for the StrongTowns argument that some needs, now addressed by Federal programs which deliver funds to local governments bound by restrictive conditions, would be better met if the funds stayed home, eliminating the roundtrip to Washington, D.C.
The results of the Winthrop/University of Missouri study don’t particularly surprise me. They align well with my observations and expectations. But they hopefully deflate the balloons of those who seek to deflect the need for land-use changes by falsely blaming corruption.
During the past month, I was sucked into a walkable urbanism advocacy effort to a greater extent than I had expected. I’m not complaining. The goal was worthwhile and I was happy to take a role. But I was surprised by the extent of the obligation. I’ll give details in my next post.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)