Elected officials are in positions of public trust.
Too often those officials think being elected gives them the power to do what they want.
That seems to be the case with Wirt County Assessor Debbie Hennen. Hennen, a Democrat who is running unopposed in November, was sanctioned by the West Virginia Ethics Commission for misconduct "that included using public funds for her personal use."
Hennen signed an agreement with the commission in which she admitted "borrowing" on several occasions public money from a fund made up of dog license fees and using it for personal reasons. She agreed to pay fines totaling $6,250. She also admitted to selling Avon products during work hours and using assessor office stamps for her personal use and agreed to pay for any and all questionable reimbursements found by the commission.
Borrowing? Don't insult our collective intelligence and use borrowing to explain her conduct. Had that been a low-level employee, it would be called stealing and charges would follow. But when an elected officer entrusted with the public property does it, it's called borrowing and law enforcement and prosecutors look the other way.
Hennen's supporters will probably say what she did was not a big deal; she always repaid the money taken from the dog fund, and the stamps and other items were used for good causes, such as designing brochures for the Wirt County Fair and working with Wirt County High School athletic booster organizations.
Maybe. But for public officials there is no such thing as a minor violation. Hennen has been in office long enough to know what she was doing was not ethical but like many public officials who have been returned to office several terms, decided those rules did not apply to her.
This is not the first time Hennen has had a brush with the legal system. In 2010, she was charged with falsifying a worker's time sheet. However, Circuit Judge Bob Waters found her not guilty, ruling her conduct may have been wrong, but was not criminal.
Hennen indicated her decision to sign this agreement with the ethics commission was to spare Wirt County taxpayers the cost of legal fees to fight the charges against her. "At the end of the day (during her previous trial) there was a cost to taxpayers and for that I feel bad," she said in a statement. "Now, with the new charges levied against me ... I am faced with two choices. The first would be to fight the charges and even if the results were the same as the last time and I am found innocent, there might be an additional cost to the community."
If Hennen had put the community and its taxpayers first in the beginning, she would not be in the situation in which she now finds herself.