When I wrote my last post to this blog a little over a month ago, I guessed that the blaring news headlines of a new rock solid set of charges against our much-maligned Barry County 911 director would likely vaporize into little more than the newest chapter of the long saga of The Wall of Blue - the system that Mr. Nystrom has used time and time again to attack his accusers and shield himself from the prying eyes of the public. Last year I wrote my first post on Director Nystrom's ability to avoid punishment for his many misdeeds and here we are today with some still not realizing that the very illegal or unethical payments Mr. Nystrom is accused of making to his dispatchers is part of that Wall. How ironic is it that the very people we are supposed to call when we are being robbed are the ones who are picking our pockets?
Very simply for those who still can't grasp the basic facts in this case: Why would anyone rat out the guy who's been giving them taxpayer money that they hadn't earned and weren't entitled to receive? How many of those people would go public, knowing that not only would they likely have to pay that money back but that they'd also have to answer why they took it in the first place? Why did those payments take place in a manner not exactly legal or ethical when there would have been almost no objection from any quarter had they been necessary and well-earned?
That Nystrom's defenders have no answers for any of those questions leaves me convinced that the taxpayers of Barry County just got screwed again. It's in many ways similar to the way Scooter Libby obstructed justice by lying before a Grand Jury in the CIA leak case and then got his sentence commuted by the very forces his lies were helping to protect- how do you prosecute a case when all the witnesses are willing to lie and their lies are condoned by the people in power that they are protecting?
I find it almost surreal that most of Nystrom's defenders have used the line that he personally didn't benefit from the misuse of public funds- as if stealing from someone is OK as you long as you don't keep the money. Is it much of a stretch to understand that those payments are obviously part of his system of favors and punishment that the director has used to keep his Wall intact? While there is no doubt many incorrect allegations have been hurled at the director, it's also true that men and women of reason have to be able to separate unrelated arguments, and the truth or falsehood of the most recent allegations have nothing to do with past incidents, investigations and cover-ups.
The real problem here is that the public has been robbed not just once, but twice. First, Nystrom took money (correct me if I'm wrong, but I've seen very few people argue- even Nystrom himself- against the actual charges but instead they choose to dismiss it as just being nice to public employees who worked hard to keep us safe which has nothing to do with Nystrom's guilt or innocence but makes a neat way to deflect attacks without really mustering a real defense) which was not his to spend on dubious overtime expenses which had no reason to exist "off the books" other than to serve as hush money and to protect his personal fiefdom. Second, Nystrom has received a generous payoff which is his own hush fund, given to him by his long-time enablers on the County 911 Board- the very people who should have discovered the misappropriation of public money and DONE SOMETHING about it! This smacks of yet another corrupt crony Christmas gift which seems to be a proud tradition in local politics. I'm not sure what is more offensive- the bribe to go away quietly or the fact that so many prominent figures are forcing us to eat this turd and tell us how good it tastes!
That the voters have been let down by their elected leaders is the real story. Once again, instead of doing what was right, Nystrom and the 911 Board have failed in their duty to wisely use taxpayer money for the greater good. Nystrom's payments to dispatchers could have been done through legal and ethical means, but they weren't and he should have to face consequences for those actions instead of receiving an early retirement gift and a loud and boisterous defense from his pack of enablers who hide behind talking point as if they were members of the Bush administration- how many more times do we have to hear any complain about our County 911 system countered by the old saw that "we have the best system in the state." Talking points work best when they confuse the issue and distract people from the real matter.
Finally, it seems like we've been most let down by a County Prosecutor who I warned was not up to the job from what I saw in the election campaign. Prosecutor Evans led with his chin and got sent to the mat. Whatever his motives or reason for going public with the case when he chose, it now appears obvious he wasn't ready to press charges. He now seems to be hinting he and the Sheriff will not sign off on the deal, which has been called a golden parachute in the local paper's editorial. I have no sympathy for Prosecutors who choose to try their case in public- it's one of the reasons voters sent a previous prosecutor packing. Evan's opponent likely lost because she was seen as too close to the corrupt system voters were already tired of. But if Evans is unable to effectively manage a case of public corruption then what good is he? Perhaps the biggest lesson from all this is that sometimes people just aren't up the job and that being incompetent is perhaps just as bad or even worse than being corrupt.
If voters want to take their anger out on anyone over this, how about the 911 Board which has always defended Nystrom, instead of doing their job to protect the public from waste, fraud, corruption and abuse? I'd suggest starting with Nystrom's loudest defender, Hastings Township Supervisor Jim Brown. This Brownie is not doing a "heckuva job" since he's loudly trying to tell us what a good deal we got. The only way it would be a good deal is if Brown himself resigned or if the sensible voters of Hastings Township started making some noise about their elected official's involvement in defending the misuse of public funds. I know there's a remedy for when elected officials shirk their responsibility to the public, do you recall? Hastings Township voters are in a unique position to have their voices heard on this issue and they should let Jim Brown know his days of defending the misuse of their money are over.
And should anyone still be confused- acquittal, or lack of prosecution, does not equal innocence. Since OJ Simpson never got convicted does that mean he didn't kill two people? Ken Lay never served a day in prison but he's still known as the guy who defrauded Enron investors. The people who see the lack of prosecution as evidence of innocence need to understand that there is no connection between the two, except that it's one more sign the Wall of Blue is still holding strong.