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Ringside: Don't trust public officials? Why not?

There's a reason a third of Americans in a recent poll said they "almost never" trust the government to do the right thing.

JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff PhotographerRead more

Clearing the Record:

This column failed to mention that Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille in 1999 sold an interest that he had in an Avalon Shore property.

There's a reason a third of Americans in a recent poll said they "almost never" trust the government to do the right thing.

It's because too many public officials act entitled or worse. Consider the recent reports surrounding three of Pennsylvania's esteemed leaders: Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, and just retired State Sen. Raphael Musto (D., Luzerne).

You're excused if you never heard of Musto. He's only been in office for 36 years, and is just now making headlines for getting indicted.

Castille, on the other hand, has been in the news more than a judge should. The last time we checked in with the chief, his point man on the plan to build a new $200 million Family Court in Philadelphia had also gone to work for the developer on the other side of the no-bid deal. Somehow, this was never mentioned while the point man, attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt, and Castille played golf together.

Not to worry. Turns out it's nothing another million dollars or so in taxpayers' money can't resolve. That's on top of the millions in tax dollars the chief has doled out to produce little beyond a set of drawings for a generic government building.

The same Inquirer reporters who exposed the Family Court mess recently detailed how Castille routinely accepts dinners, plane rides, tickets to sporting events, and rounds of golf at exclusive clubs from lawyers and businessmen, including some with cases before the court.

You gotta problem with that?

How's Castille supposed to pay for all those perks on his lousy government salary of just under $200,000? The taxes alone on his Avalon Shore house keep going up.

So in steps blind justice, or lady luck.

The law firm of Saul Ewing L.L.P. picked up the tab the last three years for Castille's junket to New York for the Pennsylvania Society confab at the Waldorf-Astoria.

That's where Daily News columnist John Baer bumped into Castille in 2007 after he had written a tough column on the chief. They were outside the hotel bar when Castille said to Baer: "I told my staff if I got enough drinks and saw you here I was gonna punch you right in the [bleeping] nose."

And some wonder why there's not more regard for the august legal minds on the state Supreme Court. One problem could be that justices have no business schmoozing (and boozing) with politicians and lobbyists. Especially on someone else's Amex card. This ain't traffic court.

Sadly, the freebies are legal - because the court said so. Castille says he discloses all the swag and it doesn't influence his legal decisions.

Of course, Saul Ewing and lawyers at other firms may just groove Castille because they like to hang out with him.

Speaking of grooving, the Philly schools chief and her staff went out of their way to steer some so-called emergency work to a minority firm.

Not a biggie, except another firm had already completed much of the work. The contract wasn't put out to bid. And there really wasn't an emergency.

Other than that, everything was copacetic.

Why get bogged down in a lengthy and open process? It's only tax dollars. And there was an emergency, right?

Well, the main contract went to install security cameras in 19 schools that were considered "persistently dangerous." Here's the big emergency: A state report on school safety was coming, and the district wanted to look proactive.

Sounds more like a public relations emergency.

It is all about the kids, right? Especially when it comes to school safety, where, you may recall, Ackerman has an almost zero tolerance for violence. Remember her deft handling of the attacks last year of 30 Asian American students at South Philadelphia High.

Who can forget how she rushed straight down to the school a mere eight days after the attacks. And Ackerman made sure to keep one of her very best principals on the job at South to ensure the racial tensions remained calm - or at least below riot level - the rest of the year.

LeGreta Brown was a heck of a principal, except for the fact that she wasn't certified here to be a principal. And she was chased out of the Atlantic City schools.

Hey, it's hard to find great educators for $100k a year. And harder still to get chased from the Atlantic City schools.

Now months later, all of the cameras have yet to be installed. Some emergency. Seems like it all could have been avoided if proper guidelines were followed. At least the security cameras will keep the kids in line, right?

Unfortunately, the same can't be said about our little-known state senator, Musto. Somewhere along his almost four decades of public service, he allegedly crossed the line. In his defense, many public officials in Luzerne County don't even know there is a line.

Musto allegedly accepted bribes from a contractor in exchange for help obtaining government grants. It's a mystery why Musto would allegedly go on the take at the end of an undistinguished career when he was thisclose to collecting a fat pension.

Only in Harrisburg can a lawmaker retire and actually get a 50 percent raise. That's right. Musto's annual pension of $117,000 a year is almost 50 percent more than he made while in office.

There is one upside: If convicted, Musto would lose his pension benefits. Now, that would at least help restore some of the public's trust in government.


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