This is not about whether John Bencivengo is guilty or innocent. Nor is it about the politics of the situation and the political outcome. Rather, it is about anticipating the impact and attempting to overcome them. In light of what our town confronts, the points made are well worth sharing.
Hamiltonians need to understand what other communities have gone through for the simple reason that there is business to be done in Hamilton: a budget to debate, a capital road project plan that is proposed and needs to be discussed, a looming tax hike…..
Simply put, no matter how we move on from this, we need to know the potential impacts, the resulting pitfalls and move on.
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. ~ Galileo
Corruption has a much larger impact on the community than it has on the person or persons involved. The impact on those individuals is financial, professional, legal and reputation. The effects of corruption on a community reverberate through all layers of the community – political, economic and social attitudes.
By stating the obvious first: politically, corruption impacts the integrity of governmental institutions by: damaging the government’s reputation, fomenting cynicism, and breeding apathy in the people who we need to participate in the political process – the young, the voters and the aspiring politicians.
With further apathy, the political process deteriorates as the voters become motivated only to participate in moments of political drama – simply to participate long enough to vote the involved political party out of office. In addition, they will be regularly assaulted by messaging from the incumbent party as well as by the opposition party. As a result, during the normal “hum drum” of politics and governance all else will pale in the face of the intrigue brought about through the corrupt act(s) and tend to leave people less emotionally motivated to act in times of normalcy.
Economically, businesses can become leery of a government and reticent to work with government officials and processes due to concern for potentially being “monetarily molested”. There can be concerns about delays in planning development projects due to the potential fallout from a looming quagmire. Whether temporary or long-term, this will result in less economic growth, no growth in the tax base and potentially reducing the size of the tax base. With a stagnant or shrinking tax base a community is left with fewer people and businesses to absorb the burden of rising costs of government thus driving up taxes.
The biggest affront socially is the break in trust. The election process is about vetting your elected officials. Voters are told by candidates that they are honest people with integrity. Voters vote their conscience, make choices based upon their “gut” and are firm in their belief about what their candidate has explained about themselves. Once elected, an official becomes a custodian of the trust that they endeared from the voters. Corruption is therefore taken personally by the general citizenry. It is a betrayal in the truest sense of the word. It is emotionally and intellectually an affront to all those who participated in the electoral process.
Sean Richey, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University did a study that indicates corruption promotes a general distrust of not only politicians but the trustworthiness of the general citizenry. Trust is the mortar that holds a community together. When fellow residents unknowingly are influenced by even the slightest decrease in trust of a local shop keeper or person on the street (let alone an elected official) then the fabric of the community tears and cooperation is diminished.
In summary, corruption does not have a short-term impact. To the contrary, without being diligent and sensitive to the realities, it has a long-term impact on the affected community.
More than ever, now is the time for Hamiltonians to engage their local governments – municipal, Board of Education and Fire Districts – to learn what the pressing issues are and to vocalize their support or opposition. Now is the time, more than ever, to ask for more transparency. Do not wait for the polling place to give direction to your elected officials. Do not wait until November 2012 or November 2013 to act. Participate more and participate now.