Yesterday's Manchester Paper had a story by reporter Kathryn Marchoki that really shows the divide of understanding between liberals and conservatives when it comes to municipal government – actually almost any government.
The piece is about one Robert G. Geisel Jr., former Greenfield tax collector who is accused by the Greenfield (pop. Approx. 1,800, budget $1.5 million) Police of taking $3,331.00 in cash which was given to him by citizens for property taxes. It also states in the subtitle; “He and his librarian wife were well regarded in community”.
The Marchocki article goes on to detail three separate times in a 2004 -2005 period when cash was given to Geisel for property taxes and three times people were given receipts as the basis for the charges that total $3,331.00 so far.
The vast majority of the article is about how well liked the couple is and how the guy's wife, now deceased, having won library awards. People are interviewed who have nothing but good things to say about Mr. Geisel. Since the facts of the case are not all known, that seems fair enough. Actually it seems more than fair.
But the interview with Hillsborough County District Attorney, Michael Valentine is what is especially eye catching.
Valentine says the investigation of missing money started in 2005! That was some time ago for a simple bookkeeping investigation. Isn't it?
Then Valentine is quoted as saying that Mr. Geisel if convicted would not likely receive the maximum penalty. He says factors such as past history, degree of accountability, seriousness of the crime and willingness to pay restitution would play a part.
And that is the leap public officials and some citizens make when faced with a potential crime such as this. They skip right over the fact that this is a matter of public trust and the money involved belonged to taxpayers until it was take from them by government.
The fact is, there is no “other” town tax collector to go to. The municipality uses its power of taxation and threat of court action or loss of property to acquire its funding. Pay up or pay the price.
Then let something like this happen and the wagon circling begins at the municipal and state levels.
You only need look back a few years to the Town of Ashland and former town clerk and tax collector Rosie McNamara who pleaded guilty to stealing $111,000.00 when $2.4 million was the total amount missing. The “insurance company”, the NH Municipal Assoc., paid the town $660,000.00. Quite a wide array of figures. So naturally, the taxpayers footed the bulk of the bill.
The Ashland nightmare, as is often the case in these situations, started with small amounts before it finally escalated into the largest theft of municipal funds NH has ever seen. It was definitely mishandled.
So before we start making excuses for some “wonderful public servant” who may just have stolen public funds, how about we find out how much the final total is. And while we are at it keep this thought in mind:
If you can't come up with your $3,331.00 in property tax money does a newspaper reporter do a front page story about what a great guy you are?
No. The town puts a lien on your house.
Funny how that works.