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Public servants are always under intense scrutiny from the public at large. Every word and action is viewed through a microscope. Because they are leaders and policymakers, they are held to a higher moral standard than the average person, and for good reason. Though only some government positions are filled by elections, there is still an assumption from the general public that leaders will be honest and virtuous in every aspect of their jobs. This, unfortunately, is a lofty expectation. The truth is that graft and corruption are ever-present in today’s society.
Just last week, a story was uncovered that involved Craig Watkins, the District Attorney for the City of Dallas, Texas. On the morning of February 5, 2013, Watkins was driving in a Dallas County-owned SUV, accompanied by his 14-year-old son. He was driving a Ford Edge on the Dallas North Tollway when he rear-ended a large truck. According to police, Watkins had looked down to “read information” on his phone. While this behavior was against the law in Texas, Watkins was not cited for any violations at the time of the accident. Instead, he was allowed to leave the scene of the accident. His damaged vehicle was towed to a nearby body shop where it sat for five months. In addition, the accident was not reported.
Rather than handling the logistics of the car accident in the usual manner, the District Attorney’s Office engaged in a series of transactions that were less than sincere. Instead of going through ordinary channels to pay the man injured in the accident with Watkins, the office paid him (and his employer) using funds from a County-owned asset forfeiture fund. The driver was paid roughly $50,000 “under the table,” while his employer, who was the owner of the damaged truck, was paid about $5,000. Although the office claims that its conduct was legal, experts and officials from surrounding counties say that the DA’s actions fly in the face of both democracy and transparency. The wrongdoing caused by the DA behind the wheel was swept under the rug so that there would be no bad publicity. That decision has now come back to haunt County officials, especially Craig Watkins.
When an assistant District Attorney showed up to claim the repaired Ford Edge, he attempted to take it while delaying payment. Despite this attempt to skirt financial and moral responsibility, the shop owner refused to release the SUV to him. The shop owner had also said that the damage probably totaled the vehicle, but officials from the DA’s Office had insisted that he continue with repairs. To top it all off, repairs made upon Dallas County vehicles are supposed to be conducted in a specific shop, then screened and reported to the fleet coordinator and county auditor. None of this took place in the aftermath of Watkins’ accident.