Bankole: Indicted Councilman Leland should resign

Bankole Thompson

Add Gabe Leland to the long and undesirable list of elected officials in this town accused of seriously violating the public trust. Leland, a member of the Detroit City Council, was indicted last week on federal bribery corruption charges for allegedly demanding up to $15,000 from a local businessman in return for some political favors. If found guilty, he is looking at jail time and a fine.

Detroit Council Member Gabe Leland

Leland, whose indictment stands to be a major distraction for the work of the City Council, should resign right away and deal with his legal woes. There is no way he can continue to effectively serve with a corruption cloud over his head and that of the council. His votes from now on would be questioned by some, and his actions can no longer be viewed as serving the common interest of Detroiters who put him in office.

It is that simple.

A resignation by Leland would spare the council the embarrassment of being dragged into the spectacle of a possible public trial that would only serve to further erode trust in Detroit’s legislative body, which knows all too well about public corruption. Leland is not the first council member in history to be indicted by a federal grand jury. But I thought the days when council members would be booked, and their mug shots taken for alleged involvement in criminal schemes that betray public office was over. 

Leland’s alleged conduct detailed in the indictment that includes recorded conversations with the business owner, who identified himself to the media as Robert Carmack, suggest the cancer of corruption in Detroit government has yet to die.

Given how the public corruption trial of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick played out, one would think that spectacle was instructive enough for future local elected officials to avoid the trappings of absolute power that often leads to corruption. There were plenty of lessons offered in that trial which was, in essence, a study of what not to do as well as about the importance of good governance no matter your position on Kilpatrick’s lengthy prison sentence.   

The bottom line is that those who are elected to office must carry out their functions with trust and integrity. Perhaps we need to start putting more emphasis on preventing corruption than prosecuting it. Maybe someone ought to start running seminars in this town about why good governance matters for candidates seeking elected office, and how to avoid bribery attempts that would land you in trouble.

The corruption scandal of Leland has far-reaching implications because it comes at a time when there is growing mistrust about our public institutions both in the U.S. and around the world.

In fact, Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, observed earlier this year that, “The world is facing a crisis of trust in institutions across all sectors that shows no sign of abating. In 20 out of the 28 countries surveyed this year by the Edelman Trust Barometer, average trust in institutions is less than 50 percent.”

Lagarde had this to say about public corruption: “By siphoning off precious reserves of trust, corruption makes it harder for society to take the collective decisions needed to advance the common good. The economic and social costs of corruption are clear. Consider, for example, the effects of corruption on the public accounts. It robs the tax system not only of revenues, but of its very legitimacy.”

She added, “Corruption can also shift government spending away from valuable areas in health, education and social protection, toward wasteful projects that enhance neither productive capacity nor human well being.”

There are certain ethical standards that come with holding public office. That includes transparency and honesty, and not trading your position for personal benefits. Anyone who cannot commit to that shouldn’t be in office, because the worst you can do is to abuse the public trust that thousands of voters placed in you.

If Gabe Leland truly cares about his constituents in District 7, he should resign before his Oct. 11 arraignment in federal court and not put them through this shameful ordeal. That would be the best course of action as he moves to defend himself.

When his constituents chose to send him to council, they did so expecting he would not be in the position he finds himself in today. He needs to call it quits now.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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