S. Dallas Dance, the former superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, pleaded guilty last month to perjury, which is lying under oath. The charges stemmed from Dance’s failure to report $147,000 of income received from vendors who did business with his employer while he was employed. It has been reported that the prosecutor will recommend a sentence of 5 years with all but 18 months suspended.
Dallas Dance was a public servant at the highest level, responsible for the welfare of thousands of students. He was vetted and appointed to this exalted position. He was trusted to do his job, and whether the condition of honesty was implicitly or explicitly stated in his job description, it was expected. Demanded.
Eight members of the Baltimore police Gun Trace Task Force, meanwhile, also recently pleaded guilty, or were convicted of crimes that involved abuses of their power. A former mayor of Baltimore was convicted of stealing gift cards meant for the poor. Gary Brown, nominated to be a state delegate from Baltimore, was indicted on six counts of violating ethics laws and pleaded guilty. And former Baltimore senator Nathaniel T. Oaks pleaded guilty last month to fraud charges hours after formally resigning from the General Assembly. The beat goes on and on.
In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity gave Maryland a D+ rating for its anti-public corruption laws. In a 2017 Washington Post–University of Maryland poll, a third of Maryland residents said they saw corruption as a major problem in state government.
We and others see an epidemic of crimes of honesty among public officials trusted by the voters, trusted by the people who appoint or nominate them, trusted by the citizens. Whether it be a county executive, a mayor, a police officer or a school superintendent, these are people who are trusted with the welfare of the citizens. When these people fail in that trust, the impact on our society – on all of us – is severe. Their violation of trust affects the ability of a police department to assure justice, the ability of a mayor to fairly govern all people in her jurisdiction.
This damages the very core of our democracy because we need to trust that our chosen leaders are governing for our benefit and not for their own benefit. The damage these violations of trust in government cause is irreparable. And lately, we are suffering a lot of damage.
We call upon the legislature and the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to recommend enhanced sentencing guidelines for white-collar crimes committed by public officials acting within the scope of their duties. The message should be straightforward and clearly understood – if you are a public official that violates the public trust, you will pay dearly. Thieves, liars, and cretins need not apply.
Editorial Advisory Board members James K. Archibald, Martha Ertman, Susan Francis, David Jaros, Ericka King and Angela W. Russell did not participate in this opinion.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
John Bainbridge Jr.
Wesley D. Blakeslee
Arthur F. Fergenson
Marcella A. Holland
C. William Michaels
Angela W. Russell
H. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.