Setting a flawed precedent

Posted: Friday, December 04, 2009

The borough assembly faced an unprecedented dilemma last week. We appreciate the difficult decision before them.

Mayor David Carey's chief of staff, Hugh Chumley, admitted to violating borough ordinance requiring disclosure when his company sold equipment to the borough last summer. He claimed ignorance of the law, apologized for the violation and returned the money. Indeed, he returned more than expected, since there was another errant transaction the assembly didn't even know about.

The borough ordinance in question was approved in 1982. Apparently, that was so long ago that no one currently working with or for the borough remembered its existence. Not the mayor (who, coincidentally, was a member of the assembly back then) nor his purchasing department. This was all just a big mistake, the Carey administration says, and they all have apologized.

So, the assembly was left to decide how or even whether to address an issue they've never dealt with before.

What ended up on the table is a proposal brought forth by assembly members Gary Knopp and Charlie Pierce -- an ordinance that authorizes the equipment sale and waives the requirement to file a Notice of Intent to Do Business form.

We fear that's the wrong message to be sending.

This proposal sets a number of bad precedents. It opens the door to future assemblies being obligated to allow similar concessions. It also suggests we write laws for single individuals.

American government systems don't make laws for a single person. American government systems make laws for us all. Singling out an individual suggests some deserve different treatment than others, that some individuals are more special. Do we really believe that?

If the assembly believes Chumley was unfairly treated, change the original ordinance. Ask fundamental questions about whether it works the way we want it to.

But don't set a precedent that suggests any individual can get special treatment.

That's not fair, and it's not the ideal this country was founded on.

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