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Keeping Local Officials Honest

It is relatively easy to join in a chorus of “throw the book at him” when corrupt public officials are found at the state and national levels. It is not so easy when they are in local government, living in the same towns and counties as the judges who must sentence them.

On Monday, Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra sentenced former Bridgeport Mayor David Smith to three years behind bars on a charge of theft in office. Smith, 49, pleaded guilty last month.

He stole more than $24,000 through a scheme by which he took cash payments made by people fined for traffic offenses, then destroyed the corresponding paper citations in an effort to avoid being caught.

Vavra could have sentenced Smith to “community controls” instead of incarceration. Given his record, including service in the military, that must have been tempting.

But the judge was right to impose the maximum sentence available.

On both sides of the Ohio River, we have seen far too much corruption among local public officials during the past few years. It is important to deter them from wrongdoing through oversight of their behavior and stiff punishment if they are caught in wrongdoing. Vavra is right to recognize that.

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