When news first broke of a possible traffic ticket fixing scandal within the Hillsborough Clerk of Courts Office, I have to admit I got a bit verklempt. Ah, the good old days are here again. • Over the years Hillsborough County always has been very good at being very bad. This was the land where three county commissioners were once led away in handcuffs, thus creating the necessity to expand the board to seven members so that if a trio of public servants were ever again indicted at least there could always be a quorum. Good time, good times.
Hillsborough has had countless public officials who couldn't find their keisters with the help of SEAL Team 6, Roald Amundsen and Francis Drake. I still get wistful over those fumbling, stumbling, incoherent glory years when Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, who couldn't even spell "the Apprentice," showed up for work less often than Judge Crater — and still managed to royally mismanage the office into chaos.
There have been judges who cavorted about their chambers in lingerie, or snuck around the courthouse trying to frame other judges for wrongdoing, or used their office as if it were a dating service. It was all so gloriously wonderful, especially if you have a soft spot for the chutzpah of the completely shameless pol. Guilty.
So the idea that County Clerk Pat Frank may have had folks in her employ who were engaging in some good old-fashioned ticket fixing certainly got my Chicago going. This had great potential for nefariousness. Perchance, with just a bit of luck, there might be some cash-filled brown bags in a judge's office, or two. One can always hope, can't one?
Of course the role model for this sort thing was the late addled traffic court Judge Bob Johnson, who back in the 1970s regarded his courtroom as if it were a commodity exchange with charges and fines to be bid on for the right price. Think of this chap as the Warren Buffett of moving violations.
In the more recent traffic ticket kerfuffle, Frank discovered one of her employees was accepting money from co-workers to facilitate the disposition of tickets. In one instance the employee manipulated the office's computer system to get a ticket dismissed.
Eventually, the scam was exposed and the offending employees were encouraged to resign. The Sheriff's Office is investigating, so there is always the potential some big shots will get the full Dominique Strauss-Kahn perp walk experience. It never hurts to dream.
Still, the clerk's office low-rent corruption ticket-gate scandal appears to have involved just a few hundred dollars and a couple of employees trying to take advantage of their minion status to get out of paying a fine. Are there no standards any more?
Frank was no help at all in perpetuating a scandal, getting rid of the offending workers. In another time and place, most Hillsborough officeholders would have given these folks a raise and a promotion for demonstrating their initiative.
This is Tampa, after all, an old Indian word meaning: "You have the right to remain silent."
Indeed, the defrocked clerk's office employees barely had cleaned out their desks before Frank decided to "reorganize" her office by letting go three other high-level employees on the flimsiest of evidence that they had no clue what they were doing in their jobs.
Since when has this ever been an issue when it came to government work?
Frank discovered one employee who had been assigned to oversee the office's transition to a paperless workplace, which involves stuff like computers, couldn't handle the technology associated with the process. Two other jettisoned employees, who were supposed to handle reporting requirements that help calculate how much money the clerk's office receives from the state, seemed baffled by the demands of the job.
During the Ron Alderman property appraiser years, these employees would have been given corner offices, a county car and eight weeks vacation.
It has become abundantly clear Pat Frank is taking this good government shtick a bit too far.
Before you know it, it's altogether possible other elected officials might decide to get all goody two-shoes and start insisting their employees demonstrate some actual competence on the job.
Then what? Gone will be the days when a civil servant could spend decades at a desk collecting cobwebs.
If party-pooper Pat Frank had an ounce of common decency, she would have left all these workers in place if for no other reason than to give scribblers something to write about. It's not fair, is what it is.