A Culture of Local Government Corruption
This past Sunday’s New York Times had a fascinating article on the culture of corruption in Spain and other southern European countries – countries which for centuries allowed local mayors and magistrates to enrich themselves through graft and bribery.
Three short paragraphs were harsh:
Spain is by no means Europe’s most corrupt nation — Greece and Italy are considered more so. But the sheer volume of political corruption cases here is proving deeply embarrassing.
Judges here are now investigating about 1,000 officials ranging from small-town mayors . . . to former cabinet ministers. Even the country’s conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has turned up on a list of his party’s stalwarts who were supposedly taking payments under the table. . . .
There are so many scandals that some newspapers have taken to organizing all but the biggest developments in a quick-list format, rather than writing whole articles.
Why does this article fascinate me? Because in 28 years traveling to local governmental meetings and hearings in every section of our state, I have never – and I truly mean never – heard an elected official or staff person so much as quietly hint that money or favors could result in a different outcome. Nor have I heard any other land use attorney tell me that they’ve been approached about under-the-table payments.
Equally true is that I have never represented any owner or developer who has asked me how to grease the political skids through a form of payment or favor, nor have I ever been aware of a client who did so behind my back.
Yes, we occasionally read about corrupt acts, but those are the exceptions. So why are we so different from southern Europe? Why does our political culture function on the “up and up” rather than the down low.
I could give several answers that would reverberate with shallow-minded rhetoric about how America is a better country and we are a better people, but my own barf buttons would get pushed before I could hit the “publish” command that sends my words into the blogosphere.
Rather than trying to delve too deeply into why our local government culture eschews corruption, and rather than using my observation as an opportunity to engage in blather, I’ll just simply express gratitude.
Too Much Information?
Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but I read the quoted article this past Sunday on my iPhone while sitting through a church service (which I occasionally do attend). And since I’m now tweeting, I sent it out into the world to all five of my followers before the final hymn. You can find me on Twitter by going to @terrelltom and become my sixth follower.
Would you comment?
Among my blog readers are other land use attorneys and several elected officials, planners and other city and county staff. I would love to know – by your comments below – whether your experience mirrors my own or whether you have ever personally experienced the type of corruption in our local governments that, according to the NY Times, is prevalent in southern Europe.
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