It is intellectual laziness to say, as some noisy people do, that “all politicians are crooks.”
No one who speaks in absolutes should be taken seriously.
Still, it is extraordinarily troubling to see the conviction of Grovetown City Councilman Sonny McDowell on federal bribery charges. Not because it provides anecdotal proof of political dishonesty to the loud, lazy thinkers, but because it is undeniable that Sonny is a good man.
He also, at the moment, is a convicted felon. Those two things are pretty hard to square up. It just doesn’t fit.
People who know McDowell universally admire and respect him. There’s no question that he has been an outstanding city councilman for Grovetown, thinking around corners while too many others were content to sit in the corner and watch the world pass by Columbia County’s fast-growing city.
Those acquaintances were stunned when word came that he’d been indicted by a federal grand jury in Alabama. All of it seemed out of kilter with what we knew about Sonny. It just didn’t fit our image of him; surely, they’ve mistakenly shoehorned a mistake into a crime.
And then, as the trial started, his co-defendant – an ex-state employee to whom McDowell had promised a cut of the earnings from a new fingerprinting system McDowell sold to the state – flipped on him. He pled guilty and agreed to testify against McDowell.
That didn’t erase doubt about McDowell’s guilt. But it erased most doubt that he’d be found guilty. That’s just a pretty big hurdle to overcome.
McDowell, who won’t be sentenced for a couple of months, can appeal. It’s entirely possible he can make the case that while the state employee might have admitted guilt in an act of saving his own skin, perhaps that’s because he knew what he was doing was against the law.
As someone not accustomed to law-breaking, it’s plausible that McDowell was less criminal than clueless. What the government called a kickback, McDowell likely thought of as paying a commission. (The payoff was $1,700 plus a dollar per fingerprint – not exactly Al Capone.)
And you know what? If the government worker had been an employee of a private business, it wouldn’t have been illegal. But because a government entity is involved, the feds say it’s a crime.
McDowell, if unsuccessful on appeal, certainly will have to pay a fine. He faces the possibility of years in prison, too, and while that seems unlikely, I thought the possibility of him being convicted was remote, too.
That conviction also means McDowell no longer can serve as a Grovetown City Council member, which is a shame – not just for Sonny, but for Grovetown. Even with all the city’s new residents, it’s not as if people with new blood are clamoring to serve on that elected body. Three people have resigned in the last year or so, including one who’d been appointed to replace someone else who quit. She’s been replaced by the former mayor, who previously served with her as a replacement for someone else who had jumped ship.
Sure, they’ll find someone to fill Sonny’s seat. They’ll have a helluva time filling his shoes.
For now, those are the shoes of a convicted felon. And they just don’t seem to fit.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/