Columbia County has plenty of reasons to be proud.
Our public school system consistently ranks as one of the best in the state. A national magazine lists our community as one of the finest in the country. Columbia County's law enforcement is second to none. Our government is professionally operated and runs smoothly.
From the comfort of our community's achievements, it's sometimes easy to look with disdain at the discord and dysfunction next door. And Augusta's black eyes were compounded recently when two former Augusta lawmakers, Robin Williams and Charles Walker, were convicted of various crimes of corruption and sent off to federal prison.
But before we get too smug about it all, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Robin Williams, serving 10 years in federal prison, grew up in Columbia County. And before he lost his bid for re-election, his state House district included part of Columbia County.
Columbia County resident Linda Schrenko's trial date is set for March 6 on charges that she and several co-conspirators stole more than $600,000 in federal education money.
Schrenko, the former Georgia superintendent of schools, was once a rising star who was the first woman elected, in 1994, to partisan statewide office. She even ran for governor in 2002. Before ascending to those heights, however, Schrenko was a teacher and later principal in Columbia County's school system who once ran for county school superintendent (and lost).
Also, one of Schrenko's alleged co-conspirators, Evans resident Merle Temple, has already pleaded guilty in the case.
Columbia County has been blessed that none of its local officials in recent years have been accused of criminal corruption. In fact, it has been more than a decade since a couple of partisan-motivated scandals sullied local politics.
Still, when Schrenko's trial begins soon, Columbia County " particularly its Republican Party, which used Schrenko and Temple as high-profile volunteers while their indictments were pending " will share the shadow of cynicism.
With much to brag about, Columbia County also has much to lose if our community ever falls asleep at the switch and allows political corruption to ruin the progress that's been built. The lessons from next door, and our share of the shame, should serve as a reminder of that reality.
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