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MATTER OF OPINION: Apology needed?

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By Robin Bass

Apologizes may mean something on school playgrounds, but what do they really say in the labyrinth of politics?

 Magistrate John Riley has now asked twice for Judge Executive David Jenkins to say he is sorry for the extravagant, and sometimes questionable, spending while serving as the 2008 Kentucky Association of Counties president. The statewide media coverage of Jenkins’ actions has been an embarrassment for Spencer County, Riley has said, and residents in this community deserve not only an explanation, but an appeal for their forgiveness.

I recently caught a glimpse of former President Bill Clinton urging Senate Democrats to pass the health care bill. Just seeing his face made my mind race back to 1998. It was that finger-wagging moment when Clinton denied all allegations involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Later, when he was proved a liar, Clinton made a weeping apology. The act of confession may have meant something to some people, but to me it was just another sad attempt of a politician trying to save what was left of his tarnished career.

Unlike the Clinton apology, I believe some semblance of regret from Jenkins would do the community good. The words, “I’m sorry” would not change the past, but perhaps it would allow residents to look toward the future. It has, after all, been embarrassing to watch the private life of our county’s most influential elected official exposed for all to see. A private life that, according to Auditor Crit Luallen, involved patronizing tawdry establishments and spending tens of thousands in public money on lavish meals and alcohol.

It has also been disconcerting to find a direct link to this sordid mess recorded on Spencer County’s checkbook. The Marriott Griffin Gate Resort may have only charged $1.06 to the county credit card for a single phone call from Jenkins’ hotel room, but that call was made to an escort service.  And all the while, our judge executive was supposed to be representing Spencer County at the Kentucky County Judge Executive Association conference.

Jenkins previous stance that this has “nothing to do with Spencer County” just does not fly anymore. His actions as president of the Kentucky Association of Counties has everything to do with how he represents our community.

Whether they like it or not, public figures do not have private lives – especially when they are on taxpayers’ time and taxpayers’ dimes. They may want to be able to slip off to Argentina like South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and carry on an extra-marital love affair, but they can’t. Not without consequences.

What politicians do in their private lives is a testament to the character we should expect from them in public office. That is why it does matter that Jenkins accept some responsibility for his actions and openly appeal for the understanding and, yes, forgiveness, of the community.

I applaud Riley for having the backbone to stand up for what is right and honorable. It is not easy to speak out against the most politically-powerful man in the county. My hope now is that others will follow.