Thursday, October 11, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Emails out, but in-laws still pay up

It was nice of Ron Quillin’s in-laws to mortgage their home so he could repay Pulaski County more than $42,000 he stole while he was the county comptroller, but after they saw the infamous emails he sent to his girlfriend printed in the papers, they must wonder if the bum is worth keeping as a son-in-law.

Surely they will decide he doesn’t deserve any more financial help after what he’s done to their daughter for all the world to see. Quillin, who’ll serve 12 years in prison for theft, still owes $12,000 for phony travel expenses he charged to the county to see Cheryl Zeier, his mistress, in St. Louis and elsewhere.

Somebody — maybe his wife — should tell his in-laws to stop giving him any more money and instead let him serve a couple more years behind bars.

There’s no word if Zeier has offered to help Quillin repay the rest of the money he owes the county by returning any of the expensive gifts.

Read the 400 emails the pair sent each other while they were at work and you realize why productivity, at least in the public sector, lags behind our foreign competitors.

Reporters, who’ve been watching soap operas too long, describe the Quillin-Zeier emails as “steamy,” and maybe there’s some entertainment value here for voyeurs, but what’s revealing about the emails — besides confirming our suspicion that employees waste a lot of time on the job — is the low-level of intelligence that produced the emails: Evidently, you don’t have to be very bright to get a job as Pulaski County comptroller or work as a computer software salesperson and do business with the county. That’s what Zeier does for a living, and that’s how the pair met (her company has done $1 million worth of business with the county), but Judge Buddy Villines and his legal adviser Carla Burnett fought hard to suppress the emails because they cast the county in a poor light.

Pulaski County released the emails only after the state Supreme Court ordered them released after chewing them over for several months.

Villines and Burnett appealed and stalled as long as they could, but the state’s Freedom of Information Act left them nowhere to hide, seriously wounding the county’s reputation in the meanwhile.

Although they had bought some time when the Supreme Court at first was hesitant to release graphic parts of the emails, common sense finally prevailed, and the court last week finally ordered their release, weighing the public’s right to know against privacy concerns.

But public employees should have little privacy while they’re on the people’s payroll, especially when they’re stealing our money. Sure, the emails are as dumb as they are boring, but the public’s right to know is paramount, even if they have embarrassed Quillin, Zeier, Villines, Burnett et al.

Cities and counties should put up signs in offices saying, “Warning: All emails may be used against you while you’re clocked in.”

It would be interesting to see the Villines-Burnett emails while they tried to hide Quillin’s. They might not be steamy, but they could be revealing.