COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI)- When someone is elected or appointed to a position of public responsibility, the people that put them there trust that they will do their jobs honestly.
However, sometimes that trust is broken.
“Corruption is taking advantage of the opportunities provided by public service to enrich oneself,” said Dr. Brian Anderson, political professor at Mississippi University for Women.
The sheriff’s saga taking place in Webster County is the latest example of officials accused of abusing their power.
Webster County Sheriff Tim Mitchell and investigator Landon Griffin were both recently arrested and now face multiple charges including embezzlement and selling firearms.
“We have situations like Webster County, this is a story ready for a movie plot,” said Anderson. “It’s tied up in greed and believing that somebody can get away with a lot just because they have political power.”
According to the Attorney General’s Office, 21 elected officials have been convicted of corruption in the past 10 years in Mississippi.
Since 2008, the State Auditors Office said roughly 27 public officials and three agency heads have either been convicted or indicted on public corruption.
Countless others were fired or were forced to resign due to being caught up in misconduct.
“Corporate America has seen plenty of examples of people on the “take” if you want to put it that way,” Anderson explained. “People being involved in bribery schemes where they essentially trying to force through business with government or with other companies, but there’s also charitable organizations that have corruption problems.”
Corruption is a problem that’s almost as old as government itself, and it often boils down to two traits, greed and selfishness.
Dr. Anderson said it can also mean that something is missing in the system.
“That’s telling us that there’s not as much oversight as should be happening,” Anderson expressed.
Anderson believes there should be an oversight board to monitor all officials and to help ensure that no misconduct of any kind is taking place.
“There are procedures, if they’re set forward and in a clear way, they become a matter of routine and it reminds you that you have to mind the money and resources that you’re in charge of and not just consider them things that you can spend like your own money.”
The State Auditor’s office does not have the power prosecute.
Instead, it relies on local District Attorney’s or the Attorney General’s office to indict and prosecute those accused of public corruption.