Page 16 THE VILLADOM TIMES II • August 12, 2009 that he broke the law twice, he said only about a dozen weed trees had been cut down. Two borough officials, both honest men, lumbered through the lot and determined that the actual unlucky number had been 113, and that many of the trees had been so thick – based on the stumps – that their substitutes could not be expected to grow back for 10 to 20 years or more. This wasn’t, I think, a prison offense because it was based on stupidity rather than cupidity, as my friend Special Agent Tom Kimmel of the FBI used to say. It was a dismissal-from-job offense because the man broke the law, then lied to public officials, and basically didn’t know the laws surrounding his job. He must have understood security precautions: The telephone system in his district was set up in such a way that when you tried to call his office, the call was transferred through three secretaries until it came to an answering machine that was always full and would not accept calls. When he left, the kids in his own district published a story in the school newspaper asserting that his job had been an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money and that having a high school principal and a district superintendent was an odious and expensive redundancy. My own profession is somewhat more demanding. If you provoke a libel suit, or if you can’t cut your job, you hit the bricks, pronto. The school administrator finally retired – voluntarily – years and years afterwards. Nobody told him, “You’re fired!” Nobody was watching that particular store either. Some years ago, after endless searching, a large community hired a manager who was also the manager of a personnel recruiting firm. He was his own top choice, which is not very surprising. What is surprising is that – in violation of the contract he signed – he kept working as a personnel recruiter at his previous business even though he had promised not to. He was rude to his staff and to me. He was also rude to a man who had done that particular town a lot of good. Eventually the rudeness caught up with him. He left. I don’t print rumors, but there have been several building inspectors so notoriously corrupt that nobody was surprised to hear about it – but because the code they were was sent to enforce was so absurdly stringent, none of the people who needed help dared to inform on them. One hand washes the other. Both stay dirty. My first job out of the Army – 40 years ago – was at a warehouse where the fire exits were constantly blocked by skids loaded with merchandise that weighed several thousand pounds each. The fire inspector would walk in, go to the office, and come away with a big smile. He also got free merchandise if he wanted any. He usually did. How do you prevent corruption? A sense of honor couldn’t hurt. Europeans or Asians who get caught stealing from the public sometimes commit suicide. Americans tend to put everything in a relative’s name and hope for a safe cell. In America, your honor is your net worth. Period! In some cultures – including ancient Persia and Korea before the Japanese took over – the whole family was executed if an official proved corrupt. I find that cruel and extreme, not to mention unconstitutional. What we should do is strictly legal. We should revise the civic code so any public official convicted of a crime related to his or her office should forfeit all pensions, members of his or her immediate family should be ruled ineligible for public employment, and his or her children should be ruled ineligible for public assistance or public scholarships. There is a precedent for this in Britain. During the Napoleonic Wars, the custom of dueling, usually with pistols, was killing off a number of young officers whose services would have been more useful in combat. The British enacted a law to control dueling. If an officer killed a man in a duel, that officer was charged with murder and hanged. This considerably reduced the incidence of dueling. The next law eliminated dueling entirely: Any officer who killed or was killed in a duel forfeited the right to a pension for his wife and children. Hot-blooded men of valor now had an excuse not to duel: “I must protect my family first!” Go for it, New Jersey! Once political crooks learn they are going to have to pay taxes for the rest of their lives instead of stealing them once they get caught, there’s apt to be a serious outbreak of honesty in the Garden State. Bad, bad Hudson County. If you read about what is going on down in that sinkhole of iniquity, you would think that corruption is a way of life in New Jersey. Of course, we all know that’s nonsense. Anybody up here in the land of pristine purity remember the man who worked for a local board of education? I liked him. I could sometimes get into his office to interview him. Most of the time, the self-important people with taxpayerfunded jobs are “in a meeting.” It is amazing how much time people spend in meetings when reporters are around – simply amazing. They must spend eight hours a day in meetings. Not this guy. Most of the time, he would sit down and talk things over. He was cooperative and friendly. One day, during a tough time when my mother was dying, my son was in college without a scholarship, and I was financially challenged to a daunting degree, I walked into the school employee’s office and found out that his computers had been unplugged and carried off, the file cabinets were open, and there were no papers in the drawers. Just before my arrival, 10 U.S. Treasury agents had taken this man away in handcuffs and confiscated the entire inventory. I was dumbfounded. I never suspected any wrongdoing. He had hit on a scheme of beautiful simplicity. Working with a friendly contractor, he awarded contracts – always for just under $10,000, due to federal regulations about reporting income – for landscaping work that either never got done or didn’t cost the contractor anything remotely resembling $10,000. The two of them would then drive down to a check-cashing place in Englewood and cash the checks and pocket the money. As the years rolled by, the man and his friend cost the taxpayers an estimated $1.7 million for work around the schools that remained, shall we say, invisible. Somebody finally blew the whistle. The honest person in the case remained anonymous, probably to protect his or her life from others who are less than honest and hate nothing more than a squealer. My guess is that some poor soul who could never get any work with the school district despite reasonable bids asked a federal official to look into the matter. Either that, or somebody bragged too much. The U.S. Treasury Department came for the computers. The man was convicted and got some prison time. The district never got its money back. He appears to have put most of it in someone else’s name. A few years later, another school official decided that a private contractor who wanted a contract to put up awnings for the school buildings should do some work at the school official’s own house at no charge, except perhaps to the people who were paying that official’s salary. He got caught, too. Is anybody watching the store? Does anybody know how to spot a crook? I guess not. They must not teach that in school. Another case: One school official ordered contractors to chainsaw 113 quality trees without getting a permit from the state or from the town. When confronted with the fact Is there corruption in northwest Bergen? Letters to the Editor Dear Editor: After 20 years in Ridgewood, we are convinced, sadly enough, that the village council has lost its perspective of fiscal responsibility. First it was the parking fiasco, which has gone on for years and resulted in yet another change in the approach to parking charges - this time under threat of a program going bankrupt. There has been no mention of why the program is on the brink, who fell asleep at the fiduciary wheel, or who let us “get to the brink.” We are told by our leaders that we must do something or the state will intercede. The answer offered is to quickly change the program whether it affects business in downtown or not. The answer I guess doesn’t lie in better administration or better budgeting or better management to make the program cost effective. Instead it is raise more money quick fix as we have done every few years. We have even changed parking hours back to what they were before the previous change - but have doubled the charge. Besides we can always change it again next year to something new if we need more money. Then of course there was the $250,000 excess identified by a vigilant taxpayer, which the council kept in the budget in case of overruns or to be used to reduce debt service if not needed for the overrun. The problem there is: Who budgets a job above what is supposedly the contracted price, tells everyone including the contractor there is more if needed, and finally is egalitarian enough to say to taxpayers, “Oh well, if we don’t use it, we will reduce debt service with any excess.” What business perspective respecting shareholders or other stakeholders is that? What respect does that show to Ridgewood taxpayers? The latest loss of perspective is the pool issue. While I appreciate all that Mr. Bolger does for the village, I question some of his findings and recommendations. Since we have some 25,000 residents, a $10 million pool renovation will cost each resident some $7,400 without interest and not counting the maintenance cost, which will increase annually. While his figures say it will only require some 6,000 memberships (the number of pool members before 1999) at $150 per person to cover debt service (at 4.5 percent over 25 years) and maintenance, he doesn’t address how many more private resident pools we now have, how Urges fiscal responsibility many country club memberships are now in place, or how many second homes have come to residents in the intervening years which might affect reaching that critical number. And, in the event that the 6,000 don’t commit, there is no indication of who pays - although I would guess it would be the other village residents. There also is no mention of other costs related to the pool complex, which will inevitably arise over the 25-year bond. How about canvassing and signing up the 6,000 before committing the whole village to such a project and getting them to agree to the escalation in membership that will inevitably occur over the term of the bond? What is inherently wrong with the pool, which has served us all for over 20 years (which is beautiful usable and would be a welcome addition in most communities) and for which we have regularly been assessed for upkeep and other levels of improvement? We are sure there is an approach which would be fiscally responsible and could be funded by those who are most apt to use it and while less grandiose would be significantly less costly than adding another $7,400 burden on the Ridgewood taxpayer. Bottom line is it’s time for the council to recognize that their duty dictates that they must bring back the perspective of cost benefit, the perspective of restraint in a time of economic difficulty, and the perspective of fiscal responsibility. The council and its advisors should spend the next two years finding ways to reduce taxes by 10 percent, which would save everyone real dollars and increase the home values of residents more than a new pool complex and its imbedded tax implications. Chris Lasher Ridgewood Dear Editor: As we celebrated the Fourth of July, an American tradition, I would like to voice my concern about another American tradition that is being forgotten here in our beautiful town: Christmas. I remember 10 years ago, when we were considering Bergen County as our new home to raise our two young children. We rode through many town centers (continued on page 23) What happened to Christmas in Ridgewood?