Open letter submitted by Terry O’Neill, former Lake Geneva alderperson and city activist:
When does an action cause a “conflict of interest” or should that question even be asked? When does a relationship, a friendship, a campaign contribution, a gift, support or an endorsement begin to alter or affect a governmental employee’s ability to be impartial and do a representative or appointed job? The answer is; whenever personal involvement or a relationship exists with those involved in the decision, in making the decision or affected by the decision, that constitutes a conflict of interest, and is to be avoided at all costs.
All governmental employee should be impartial and unbiased in their official duties, regardless of the individuals involved. But people are not robots, and personal involvement impacts objective thinking. It’s basic human nature and normal conduct for almost everyone to show preferential treatment to family, friends and known associates. Public officials must do their best to be fair and unbiased in all their governmental decisions. Furthermore, those who will be dealing with public officials should also refrain from actions that may bias a public official’s actions. Whether a person can actually be impersonal and unbiased in making decisions might be a good question for a debate, but in real life we know the answer and the dilemma of every public servant and politician.
A district attorney’s responsibilities are not just about prosecuting, but also about protecting the innocent from prosecution and doing what is best for all concerned, including the defendant. After his election, Zeke Wiedenfeld extended his gratitude to law enforcement, from whom he received many endorsements during his campaign. He is quoted as saying: “They showed me a lot of support.” Most people are not bothered by law enforcement endorsing political candidates, but there is a problem with it. As individuals, we should all be free to approve or endorse whomever we want, but as a members or head of any governmental body it is as unacceptable to use one’s governmental authority, position or image for personal use, endorsement or for any other non-governmental purposes that are not within the scope of one’s official responsibilities. It is not appropriate for law enforcement personnel, as law enforcement personnel whether represented as individuals or represented as a group, to support or endorse a particular candidate for District Attorney. To do that is analogous to having U.S. Military supporting or endorsing one presidential candidate or party over another, or possibly deciding what leader they want to follow and what leader they don’t.
There is a second issue about this last district attorney’s election that is disturbing. For practical purposes Walworth County is a one party county, similar to the one party system of the City of Chicago in that if you are not a member of the party that controls the area, then (with almost certainty) you will not be elected. But that control goes beyond just the election of officials. Both Walworth County and the City of Chicago have been dominated by a single party for so long that their ability to determine those who will be hired and appointed within the system has infiltrated the entire system into a self-sustaining singularity where those hired by the system become indoctrinated by the system and perpetuate it to the next generation. Zeke Wiedenfeld has been part of this singular controlling system and has now moved up through that system. The likelihood of him seeing what is wrong within the system or improving or correcting the errors in the current system are very unlikely.
A system in which any complaint filed against the actions of city officials, except alderpersons, was dismissed or not prosecuted, until they were so blatant as the Pillar of Salt Scandal or the $100,000 Library Credit Card Scandal that they could not be ignored. Even in these cases a single scapegoat was found from lower down in the ranks, a plea bargain to protect the others higher up involved in the scandal was mad, and any further prosecution or investigation of the other individuals involved, or of the other crimes found in the investigation were conveniently overlooked and the cases closed. Is this kind of favoritism and outright legal corruption likely to change? No, it’s not, as the single party leader assumes the mantle passed to him even before the final elections are held.