The Mansion©

By Jerry D. Haight

Commissioner


It was like the stench of a smoke filled room as Iris Canton, County Commissioner, strode from the courtroom into the hall where a cadre of reporters waited in ambush. Though she tried to project herself as one endowed and thus above reproach she was, nevertheless betrayed by her pasty smile, lifeless makeup applied in an ill attempt to cover an aged wrinkled face. Her eyes, disengaged both from her supporters and the reporters, were at cross message with her gravelly voice, vehemently asserting: “I did nothing wrong, this was all a plot by them to discredit me.”  

 Mark Stanton, a reporter from the Daily, tall, dark, very handsome, baggy pants, and gray polo with white vertical stripes asked: “kind of like the President’s assertion he never had sex with that woman?” Her inflamed eyes rested on Mark, her face turned waxen as the message passed wordlessly to the reporter; “I will return the favor someday, you son of a bitch.”


A sea of hands and a flurry of question formed a pool of confusion as voices competed to be heard. “But the bank records show your name on the checks,” said Pamela McEnroe, a reporter from the Bee. “The bank just made an error, “ retorted Canton, smugly, her aura now turning gray. Then she added, “I am the only option available for my party to make a run for governor.


 Iris Canton, a County Commissioner at the time, Democrat and a formidable figure in the community appeared in a frame in the Hall of Memories".  As a representative of the County, she served on numerous committees, including the Transportation, Library, Convention, Hospital and Airport Board. It was in the latter capacity that Charley met her. The airport received numerous Federal grants to maintain and expand its facilities.


At the time, they were planning a new terminal, an extended and updated tarmac, an expanded north/south runway and a new control tower. The frame picked up the memory at their first meeting. "So you want the job of engineering consultant on the airport job?” said Iris. This was the first proposal Charley's new firm had submitted for a county job. "You realize that your competitor started working with the county twelve years ago and now is one of the largest engineering consulting companies in the state?" "Too damn big for their britches if you ask me"; the Commissioner said as she leaned back in her chair. "They've been getting harder and harder to work with over the last three years. Yes, I think it is time". Their discussion went on for nearly an hour, Charley listened carefully and caught the drift that at first disturbed, he then presented an opportunity to advance his firm considerably. "Charley, I want you to go over to the Associated Government Workers (AGW) union hall and introduce yourself to Mike Hammer. He is president of that bunch, but also a very good friend. I think you will find him a good friend too. I will call ahead and sort of grease the skids for you as it were.”


Mike Hammer was married to the former Mitsy deAgnosio, daughter of Angelo deAgnosio. While never proved, it was suspected that the elder deAgnosio was the “godfather”, the mastermind of many “institutions” as they were referred to. These were thought to included narcotics, smuggling, prostitution, loan sharking, banking and money laundering. The “family” also had ties to local and state officials, a U S Senator and a U S Congressman.  Federal labor statutes required union approval to almost all Federal grants and loans and its approval almost always came with “returns” as they were called. Charley was slightly aware of these ties, but the thought of the positive impact of County work overshadowed his concerns.


The AGW building was old and a bit run down, just the right atmosphere to convey to the membership the union management was frugal and good stewards of their dues.  His trained nose told him otherwise as the smell of Dutch Master's hung in the air, Charley couldn't discern whether it came from the Perfecto or Panatela but he knew the cost of their cigars alone were far beyond what any rank and file member could afford. "Iris vouches for your character, Charley and thinks your firm might be the new engineering consultant for jobs around the county.” he said. "You better have a good memory, leaving nothing around to cause concern, but we need 18% of your contracts to keep you employed. You will be billed from the Danforth Agency. Ok?" Mike asked. A sick feeling came over Charley as he embarked on what he felt had the potential of a very slippery slope. "Easy to start, difficult to stop", he thought.  Several years flew by within the frame. They brought huge benefits. Almost immediately, his firm became successful and with it prestige. His contracts with the county were far more lucrative than he imagined even though part of his extra expenses were for "public relations" from the Danforth Agency. Both he and Lyn were invited to every social function in the county and enjoyed perks like free tickets to practically every event and, free memberships to the country club.   


Charley's firm was responsible for preparing all engineering projects Requests for Proposal (RFPs) and was then able to specify provisions that either stifled competitors or outright "specked them out".  Clauses requiring recent work experience with the County and the endorsement of the AGW” were examples. As a consequence, Charley's firm always managed to win so called "competitive engineering contracts". He often wondered how this scheme would hold up to scrutiny and marveled that no one seemed concerned, even though from time to time disgruntled competitors wrote letters of complaint to the Commissioners and once to the editor of the local newspaper. Within the omniscient context of the frame, Charley became privy to every detail of every player and the role each played in the entire network. With the new knowledge, Charley became sickened by the lies, deceit, graft and corruption of the network. Whom money could not buy, the AGW girls managed to get with favors and when they got involved, the blackmail began.  He found out The Danforth Agency was owned by Mike Hammer and Commissioner Canton. His firm's contributions as well as those of almost every contractor doing business with the county funneled into the political campaigns of key players in the network, including the States AG, key state representatives and even the governor. The members of the AGW would often "put boots on the ground" as was the term for door to door campaigning and were very effective in turning votes for whatever candidate or issues their leadership supported. The network generated many benefits for Charley as the commissioner once said, "like a well oiled machine" for almost a decade. Then a series of events occurred causing the machine to destruct. The AG was implicated in a scandal of such magnitude the public outcry caused the governor to replace him. The new AG, John Perringer, did not succumb to the network and, in fact, had a vendetta against them and attacked its leadership.

          

For the next several years, the network was under siege with a plethora of other investigations as well. The Federal GAO investigated the use of Federal funds on local projects, the new state Attorney General's office conducted its own hearings and the IRS performed its audit, examining five years of complex returns. Charley's accountant withdrew, essentially firing him as well as his firm. During these years, his name continually appeared negatively in the news and as a result, his clients left him and new prospects avoided him. The investigators found a great deal of the misuse of authority, fraud and embezzlement resulting in both Iris and Mike going to prison along with numerous city and county officials.


For years, Charley bore his hatred of Iris like a mantle, showing it at every opportunity. With each showing his hatred and loathing grew and became more venomous.  But within the frame, he saw Iris in a light he never understood. As a youngster just out of college, Iris's zeal to help people caused her to run for a seat on the city council. During the campaign, Iris was approached by the leadership of the public safety union, an arm of the AGW and with their help, she won the election. But, in the process Iris got caught up in the same ominous web as Charley.  Iris was a charismatic public official, gaining lots of friends and influence, holding many public offices including that of commissioner.  The present Charley saw and heard Iris as she repeatedly took all the responsibility off of him. It was Iris's testimony that marginalized Charley's role and allowed the Judge to meet out a mere six month public service sentence.  Charley realized his blame was misplaced. After all, he concluded, it was not Iris's fault. He had only himself to blame. He felt abject disgust at his own conduct.


He stepped away from the frame and look around the "hall of memories". "Why am I here? I have no right being here. I am as corrupt as any of them", he lamented out loud. His protests were only met with the silence of the great hall.