Schuylkill County government, it seems, has been besieged with more turmoil in the first seven months of 2014 than in any other time in its 203-year history.
In March, it was learned that the FBI, state auditor, and state police launched an investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds in the office of Clerk of Courts Stephen M. Lukach Jr. That office is where criminal court documents are processed.
Lukach, who'd held the job for 27 years, retired a month later.
According to Controller Christy D. Joy, irregularities surfaced during a 2012 audit.
Among the findings were that Lukach "made payments of $185 for his car payment out of the automation fund," Joy said.
The issues include: failure to enter bail money information into the county's automated system, deposit checks on time, forfeit bail money to the county, turn over interest to the county's general fund, remit fees on a timely basis, keep records for the automation fund, monitor bank accounts, maintain a safe-deposit box, keep accurate and updated expense records and to secure monies.
The clerk's office also failed to initially report to the auditor the number of bank accounts, saying there were three. Then six.
Ultimately, the controller learned there were, in fact, 16 accounts.
In another area of county oversight, a jury at a medical inquest in April concluded that a 21-year-old prisoner who'd died in a prison cell on March 31 was the victim of an accidental drug overdose. Negligence was a contributing factor, jurors said.
How did this happen? Why were cellblock videotapes insufficient or unavailable?
The district attorney and county coroner are working with the county prison board to examine why inmates weren't better supervised. Protocols likely will be revamped. Perhaps the board could check into additional options for monitoring or videotaping cell blocks.
Finally, in July, a Schuylkill Conservation District employee was fired for gross misconduct in the wake of an ongoing investigation into embezzlement of at least $200,000 from that organization.
Commissioner Chairman Frank J. Staudenmeier described the conservation district as a "quasi-governmental" agency.
"They are a stand-alone entity under the umbrella of the county," he said. "They have their own board of directors."
That may be true, but the county then has at least a quasi-responsibility to know what's going on.
In this situation, too, state police are investigating. If there's a bright spot in any of this, it's been the watchdog performance of county Controller Joy and his office.
Public trust isn't a given. It's something that must be earned. Even then, it can be a fleeting commodity.
Thomas Jefferson said: "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories."
Recent developments at the seat of Schuylkill County government are unsettling and disturbing.
Residents of the county rightfully deserve answers and a sense of justice.
Most of all, they deserve better.
By DONALD R. SERFASS