Here it is, barely a week removed from the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and the beginning of the scandal that toppled a crooked president, and yet government officials still dont heed the one indisputable lesson from that travesty: Its the cover-up that does you in, not the initial offense.
Think about it: If Tricky Dick Nixon had just come clean and blamed the break-in at the Watergate office complex on overzealous political operatives or on his own paranoia, the five burglars mightve done a little time in the pokey and thered have been some political embarrassment.
Rather than winning re-election by carrying 49 states, as he did, Nixon mightve had to settle for carrying only 48. In any event, the scandal wouldve faded away and Nixon might be regarded albeit undeservedly as a statesman.
Instead, he set off a scandal and investigation that almost brought down the government and got many of us interested in journalism as a career. Thanks, Tricky.
Now, four decades later, two top cats in the state Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement get caught not with their hands in the cookie jar but allegedly with their butts in the bucket seats of state-owned cars for apparently unauthorized trips home. And instead of saying Sorry, hoss and paying for the gas they burned, they, too, allegedly tried to cover up their indiscretion.
Thats the state auditors contention anyway. Auditor Beth Woods office concluded this week that ALE Director John Ledford and Deputy Director of Operations Allen Page violated state policy by driving state-owned cars to their homes near the mountains around Asheville on weekends.
Wood said they subsequently sought to intimidate her investigators into dropping their investigation by asking for their employment records. Their indiscretions were made even more egregious, she said, by the fact that Ledford and Page are top officials, not low-level underlings.
The duos boss, Department of Public Safety Secretary Reuben Young, denies anything inappropriate has been proven and bristled at Woods suggestion that he discipline Ledford and Page. Such suggestions, Young said, were manifestly inappropriate.
Oh man. You just know that somewhere, the late Nixon is going, Way to stonewall, boys.
I asked Dennis Patterson, the auditors spokesman, what discipline that office recommended. Just that they reimburse the state for gas mileage, he said.
Did he know how many trips they took, and how much theyd have to pay back? I asked.
We never could get to that point because we couldnt get the documents from them, Patterson said. Close to 500 miles round-trip each trip, Ledford and Page drove Chevy Tahoes and Dodge Chargers, among other autos. As Patterson noted, They werent driving cheap.
Paying the piper
Ill tell you what: Paying for the gas or driving their own cars or even renting a limo wouldve been cheaper than undergoing the scrutiny theyre enduring now.
Thus, as a warning to the alleged ALE obfuscation efforts and to other state employees considering bad trips, here is a musical warning to the tune of the Chairmen of the Boards Pay to the Piper.
Maestro, hit it:
If you drive to the mountains, dont you know youve got to pay for the mileage.
Ask yo mama.
If you drive to the mountains, dont you know youve got to pay for the mileage ...
The workweeks over and the weekends long
You said its time that you went home.
The drive is lonesome, and its oh so far.
But you cant get there driving this state car...
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