Scott Mooneyham: Where should the buck stop, governor?
RALEIGH ó Thirteen years ago, as a reporter for the Fayetteville Observer, I covered the racially motivated murders of a black couple by two skinhead soldiers from Fort Bragg.
Following the arrests of the two soldiers, I wrote a lengthy, scathing piece about how skinhead soldiers had been involved in a spate of violence around Fayetteville for several months leading up to the murders. Army commanders either didn’t know or didn’t want to know about the problem.
About the time the piece ran, a new commanding general, Jack Keane, took charge at Bragg. A few days later, he called a news conference to address the situation.
I came to the news conference loaded for bear. I had recommendations from the Government Accountability Office about skinhead activity in the military. I had reports into other military-related skinhead violence. As Keane strode to the podium, I took aim.
Then, he said, “We made mistakes. We missed signs. We won’t make those mistakes again.”
My ammunition had disappeared.
For leaders in the public and private sector, there’s a lesson in Keane’s words. It’s the same lesson that Harry Truman always reminded himself with that little sign on his desk.
It’s a lesson that Mike Easley, in eight years as governor, has never learned.
Easley is not a bad man. Given the personal failings of so many politicians, by comparison he’s almost a saint. He’s down to earth and funny. If you came across him in a sports bar, you’d enjoy his company.
Easley, though, has never figured out where the buck does stop.
It doesn’t stop with an underpaid, poorly educated worker in a state mental hospital. It doesn’t stop with a hospital administrator. It doesn’t stop with a cabinet secretary. It doesn’t even stop with the legislature.
Easley’s latest episode of buck passing came after The News & Observer of Raleigh reported about more failings in the state’s probation system. The articles calculated how many probationers ó typically without the supervision expected by the law ó had committed murders in recent years.
Easley responded by saying that the problem was a system that didn’t put bad people where they belong, in prison. Really? You mean a system known as Structured Sentencing ó that puts petty criminals on probation so that known violent criminals can be imprisoned for longer periods of time ó was a bad idea? You mean that all those state prosecutors out there who backed this law ó your former colleagues ó were wrong?
The Structured Sentencing Act, approved 14 years ago, certainly put more pressure on the state’s probation system. But to imply that it hasn’t been successful is irresponsible. For the most part, North Carolina’s urban landscape is no longer filled with violent crack cocaine dealers playing shoot ’em up.
But rather than acknowledge those facts, Easley conveniently passed the buck again.
With just a few weeks remaining in office, his time has run out to recognize that acknowledging mistakes is a better strategy.
– – –
Scott Mooneyham is a columnist for Capitol Press Association.