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Liberty Township Supervisor Walter Barlow

(10/2017) Corruption and mismanagement are among the most serious problems afflicting our local governments. They are also, however, often among the most difficult to uncover. Officials who neglect their duties or abuse their authority have every incentive to conceal their misdeeds, to escape public condemnation and – ultimately – retain their positions.

That is why a recent investigative report addressing my own township – Liberty Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania – is so remarkable, and so important. The report (available at finds that, over the course of more than a decade, the former treasurer of the township misallocated, misspent, or simply embezzled nearly $100,000 of township funds through at best "sloppy" and at worst "criminal" accounting practices. Month after month, year after year, sitting supervisors of the township approved the treasurer’s accounts notwithstanding blatant and repeated failures in record-keeping and ever-increasing unexplained expenses and losses.

And this may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The investigation was not a full audit of the township’s finances, but only a review of the former treasurer’s accounting practices. Given the report’s findings, and the apparent near-total lack of oversight over at least ten years, it seems all but certain that the losses and the violations – possibly criminal – extend much farther.

Yet, even when faced with such clear evidence of wrongdoing, officials in far too many townships – including my own – refuse to act. Rather than opening a public dialogue regarding the misconduct, they seek to conceal the information, and to restrict public access and public comment. Rather than initiating a full investigation into the issues, they resist further inquiries, in the hope that no additional unflattering (or potentially incriminating) facts will be uncovered. Rather than proposing measures to correct the problems, and to avoid future ones, they simply continue with business as usual.

We as citizens deserve better, and must join together to demand it, including at the ballot box. That is why I originally ran for election as a supervisor two years ago; why I have pressed to investigate and uncover any and all misconduct and corruption in my township; and why – if reelected this November – I will continue to push for a full audit of the township’s finances and for measures designed to guarantee transparency and correct past issues of mismanagement. Only through such measures, and continued vigilance, can we secure the government that we deserve: one that serves us, not itself.

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