The Eric Hinson case in which he was convicted of stealing more than a half million dollars from the St. Clair Fire Protection District, while serving in various roles with the department, including that of chief, sends a message that all taxing entities should heed. It is a message that people serving on these boards are in a role of public trust and safeguards must be put in place to protect the public’s money by having close scrutiny of all financial transactions. Annual audits should be made.
The vast majority of people serving on boards value the public’s trust and are providing an important service to their communities. Every now and then, there are individuals who see an opportunity for personal gain and violate the public’s trust. The Hinson case involved a lot of money that was stolen. Often the public trust violations are minor. Even those minor violations of using their positions for gain can be harmful to the trust value.
Violations often occur because the public isn’t paying attention to what is going on in their taxing districts. Taxpayers don’t attend board meetings, even public hearings on budgets and tax rates. Most residents of a district never run for a board position. Accountability is absent because of a lack of public interest. Since there is a lack of care of what is going on, openings are created for abuse.
Trust is gained by openness, strict observance of all laws, having audits conducted, urging people to attend board meetings and publishing them, and personal conduct that is responsible. The goal of every board member should be to serve in a manner that is in the best interests of the people he or she represents.