Yet again, a Northeast Pennsylvania politician who claimed to offer integrity, transparency and progress has delivered instead bribery, extortion and criminal conspiracy.
This time it’s good riddance to former Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, who resigned Monday and pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to grotesquely using his office’s power for personal financial gain, to punish political opponents and to shake down people trying to do business in his struggling city.
His name now lengthens the dispiriting dishonor roll comprising disgraced Luzerne County judges who traded teenagers’ futures for personal financial gain, Luzerne and Lackawanna County commissioners who shook down vendors and characterized it as how business is done and most recently, the chief financial officer for the Scranton School District charging his family’s vehicle repairs to taxpayers.
The full breadth of Courtright’s betrayal of his city was known, ideally, Tuesday when federal authorities conducted a press conference in Scranton to discuss the case.
But those details already are another example of the region’s corrupt political culture.
Incredibly, in his previous position as tax collector, Courtright watched as former Lackawanna County Commissioners Robert Cordaro and A.J. Munchak used their positions for political and personal gain, were convicted and sentenced to long federal prison terms — and then decided, beginning as soon as he took office as mayor in 2014, to use his position in roughly the same way.
Ed Pawlowski, the former mayor of Allentown, is serving a 15-year prison sentence for similar conduct, and Vaughn Spencer, former mayor of Reading, faces an eight-year term for the same thing.
The challenge for the city government is not simply to provide municipal services, but to finally rise up against the culture of corruption that permeates local politics.
That challenge falls primarily to city council. Pat Rogan, the council president, is now interim mayor as council goes about the business of appointing a replacement for Courtright, who will be sentenced on Nov. 7.
To begin with, that process must be completely open and transparent. And it must be followed by a housecleaning of the Courtright administration, a general hiring process devoid of politics, much more intense scrutiny of contract bidding and awards and zero tolerance for misuse of public power at any level.
— Scranton Times-Tribune