It was St. Patrick’s Day as I began to write this high above Minneapolis. I was on a jet trying to get some thoughts together before I go to meet my boss and the other three regional presidents of APG Media.
My thoughts couldn’t help but turn to another Patrick, who is, coincidentally, also Irish.
I’m sure many readers have wondered what our thoughts are regarding the conviction and sentencing of former Sheriff Pat Kelly.
This newspaper endorsed Kelly once upon a time and it’s no secret some of our staff have been friendly with him over the years, myself included.
To say we’re disappointed is a bit of an understatement.
It’s too hard to fathom that Kelly deliberately set out to conduct a series of low dollar crimes against the taxpayers. The price of losing seven years with his family and grandchildren is too high.
But what’s clear is that somewhere along the way, Kelly used his social media fan club to create a persona that was larger than life. It’s easy to cut corners, justify sloppiness and feel entitled to privileges you never really had when you only hold yourself accountable to a chorus of yes men.
We’ve seen it happen before where public officials begin living in the world created by their Twitter account rather than out here in reality with the rest of us. Those stories never end well.
Did Kelly have detractors? enemies? Absolutely. But that was no secret to him and should have been even more reason to dot every I and cross every T.
Still, seven years is a long time. The racketeering charge — which typically is invoked to deal with conduct along the lines of Al Capone or John Gotti — carries a hefty price tag. A minimum of three years in prison. It seemed like an overkill charge. Pearl Graham and the McKees don’t really fit the common definition or mental image of an organized crime ring.
People have gone to prison for less time for things far worse than scrapping an old bread truck.
This is exactly the type of case prosecutors and judges love to use to send a message to other public servants to keep them in check. And, because Kelly was a vocal critic of many of his fellow office holders, no one was going to do him any favors in return.
I don’t think Kelly’s successor will need the lesson. Rodney Smith is intelligent but unassuming and humble.
When I was covering the police beat years ago, Rodney was one of the hardest deputies to get to know. He didn’t seek out attention or the limelight. That’s probably a great quality for the next sheriff to have.