Safeguards Needed For Public’s Money

Weirton officials have learned a lesson about checks and balances in local government. They – and their counterparts in other small towns and cities – should put the cautionary knowledge to good use.

Last year, a Hancock County grand jury indicted former Weirton Mayor Mark Harris on charges alleging he embezzled $16,273.22 that had been raised for a skate park in the city. His wife was indicted as a co-conspirator.

Subject to a judge’s approval, the charges will be dropped. In exchange, the Harrises, who have maintained their innocence, will pay the city $16,273.22.

Opened in 2009, the skate park was built with state funding and donations. Money was deposited in an account that gave Harris access to it – not an unusual practice.

But after Harris left office in 2011, an investigation into funds missing from the account was launched. It resulted in the indictments.

Involvement of the West Virginia Auditor’s office and State Police indicates city officials understand how the alleged embezzlement occurred. Now they – and, again, officials in other municipalities – understand the need for tight safeguards to ensure no individual officeholder has too much control over public money.

Trust is a major concern of voters in small communities. The Harris case is one more reminder there needs to be a limit to it, however.