Being Accountable Starts With Us
Part 5 of a 5-Part Series on the Lack of Accountability in Government in Mount Vernon by Former Mayor André Wallace
Before we wrap up this 5-part series, we should spend a little time going over what we’ve covered so far. In Part 1, we discovered how the abuse of power by elected officials can and does corrupt OUR government and, unfortunately, how the guilty bystanders who watch them do it and say nothing are equally to blame but often not punished. We found out that many of those guilty bystanders are sitting in their offices at City Hall even today. In Part 2, we learned that the lack of leadership in City Hall can produce and perpetuate corruption, abuse, and intimidation by those charged with protecting our citizens. We also saw how “circling the wagons” to protect the wrongdoing is still the norm. In Part 3, we were reminded that, when we don’t demand a better class of elected official, we are our own worst enemy. We demonstrated how the shiftless, ineffective “leaders” have more private interest in avoiding their work than public interest in doing OUR work. And, in Part 4, we looked at how incompetent mismanagement and poor decision-making is putting our City on a path to financial ruin. For example, I stated, “the City will have to ask for a HUGE tax hike to pay for what it is incapable of managing or cutting. Forget 1% or 2% increases; be prepared for double-digit increases.” Well, just this week, the chickens have come home to roost. For those of you who have not read Part 4, you can find it on AndreWallace.com.
In this column, let’s wrap everything up. Let’s do that by going back to the very basics of accountability. Webster dictionary defines “accountability” as the “obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” We’ve seen in the previous columns, there is apparently very little “willingness” on the part of our elected officials to take responsibility for their own actions, so let’s focus on the word “obligation.” What does that mean when it comes to government?
It means that those guilty bystanders MUST root out corruption in their departments or face criminal action themselves. It means those elected to office MUST do the People’s work only and not line their own pockets with side deals, kickbacks, or even bribes. It means they MUST make decisions and own those decisions. It means City’s leaders MUST clean house in the Mount Vernon Police Department and eliminate the shameless tradition of entitlement and abuse. It means the government MUST live within its means and do everything possible, including cutting its own fat before making the People pay more money in taxes. Those are basic “obligations” every elected leader in this City and beyond MUST acknowledge and live by.
If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we need to ask this uncomfortable question: Do the People of Mount Vernon have a problem, or is the problem the People? After all, we elected these incompetent “leaders” and continue to put them in office. Therefore, WE share in the blame as their BOSS. Are we asking the right questions before we cast our vote? Are we really thinking about how a person’s skill set will contribute to the advancement and well-being of our community? For many of us, our home is one of our biggest investments. Therefore, if we’re going to make such a large investment, should we seek advice from our barber or hairdresser, or from someone who specializes in real estate? It’s no different with our elected officials. These people have the power to determine whether our community/investment succeeds or fails. It’s a huge responsibility that needs to be continuously monitored and managed.
So what are our “obligations”? We MUST demand open, transparent, and efficient operations in our government. We MUST challenge the lies, deceit, and self-dealing that we see our elected officials engaging in. We MUST demand the resignation of officials who break the law, whether or not they are prosecuted. We MUST educate ourselves on the issues facing our government and the threats from the takers who remove everything of value from our City, while leaving nothing but garbage behind. And as voters, we MUST ask uncompromising questions of our elected officials at every opportunity.
If we’re asking questions, being active, informed, engaging, out-spoken citizens, and still don’t get answers from OUR government, then we are not the problem. If we stop believing and repeating the lies we get as “answers” from OUR government, we are not the problem. If we demand that OUR elected officials hold themselves to a higher standard than others, then we are not the problem. If we do all those things, we’ll realize that we are not the problem. Instead, we will know we have a problem on our hands in City Hall.
The challenges facing this government are enormous. We are broke. We have a corrupt police force. The County and State have stopped taking our calls. No one will work for us because we don’t pay our bills. Our City Council lacks the ability to reimagine government, and our Mayor is more interested in what “being Mayor” means for herself rather than what it means for our City. Our Comptroller is in a never-ending battle about which bills to pay and which to not pay. Everyone is ignoring the City Charter while treating the City’s funds as their own personal piggybank, and nobody can get a straight answer out of any of them. Businesses cannot open new locations in our City. People cannot sell or buy property in our City. And, greedy developers are snapping up the rights to every other city block so they can build more giant housing complexes, tax-free. The schools are a mess when they are open or closed. And, OUR hard-earned money is be utterly and completely WASTED by all of them.
Add to all of that a pandemic that will close about half of our City’s businesses, gut the City’s revenue, and needlessly cost the lives of too many of our citizens because they lack access to basic, necessary medical care.
Now, we hear there’s more corruption, more thievery, and more abuse of power on the horizon related to pandemic relief funds. I will address those issues as the facts become clearer, but I want to use the last part of this series to give you a roadmap for dealing with whatever the “next catastrophe” may be in OUR City:
FIRST, let’s do our homework. If there’s anything we know about elected leaders, we know that they are not above lying to avoid facing the truth. If we have the facts, we have the power.
SECOND, we can’t let them point fingers at others. The “blame game” is as sophisticated in Mount Vernon as it is anywhere else in the world. No one points the finger faster than our elected officials. It’s just a way to deflect attention from themselves and, most likely, the fact that they weren’t doing their job when all of this was happening in the first place.
THIRD, let’s demand resignations. We have to stop thinking that an elected official is “entitled” to finish their term. An elected official who has lost the support of this community or who has abused the trust placed in them by this community should step down or be shouted down at every turn.
FINALLY, let’s acknowledge our own responsibilities. Accountability is a two-way street. There’s an old saying in politics: If you elect CLOWNS, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a CIRCUS. Don’t expect a clown to act like anything other than a clown, and maybe just as important, don’t blame a clown when they act like a clown. We must own up to our own responsibilities.
As I have said before, OUR government has failed us and continues to fail us. As the BOSS, what do we plan to do about it?
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at ADWCMV@gmail.com.