July 28, 2014 10:56:38 AM
Mark Twain complained that there were lies, damn lies and statistics. I've also heard that 90 percent of statistics are wrong.
This comes to mind when thinking about a recent study published in Forbes magazine that rates Mississippi number one in the nation for government corruption.
Researchers from Indiana University and City University of Hong Kong looked at more than 25,000 convictions for violations of federal corruption laws between 1976 and 2008 to find the rate of corruption among government officials in each state.
There is one glaring problem with this study. It is not based on corruption convictions. So the state best at catching, prosecuting and convicting corruption would, naturally, have the most convictions. States that didn't prosecute corruption would have the least convictions.
You could make a good argument that Mississippi, with the most corruption convictions, is therefore the least corrupt state, not the most.
To make a comparison, the state with the most murder convictions does not necessarily mean it is the state with the most murders. To the contrary, states with high murder conviction rates could well have lower murder rates because of the swift and sure prosecution.
We can perhaps blame former Gov. Ray Mabus for our number one ranking in this corruption study. In 1988, Mabus, then state attorney general, undertook a huge sting operation in conjunction with the FBI. By the time it was finished, Operation Pretense snared 57 supervisors in 25 counties -- 14 percent of all the supervisors in Mississippi at the time.
Without the Operation Pretense convictions, I seriously doubt whether Mississippi would even be in the top 10 of this corruption study.
The convictions led to state legislation ending the "beat system" in which each supervisor had his own little fiefdom. Now the entire board of supervisors oversees the entire county, giving much more oversight.
It is also interesting to note that many of the Operation Pretense violations involved bypassing the normal bidding process for roadwork and other services.
Since then, the state Legislature has weakened the state's bidding laws, allowing "professional services" to be the lowest and best bid. The broad definition of what constitutes a professional service has made the need for bid rigging obsolete.
In addition, bid specifications are written so specifically now that often only one company meets the qualifications, further reducing the effectiveness of an objective bidding process. Like all laws, there's always a way around it. We have certainly seen that over the last two decades in regards to competitive bidding in Mississippi.
Operation Pretense was not without its critics. The supervisors accused the FBI of enticing and entrapping them to commit crimes they would not have ordinarily committed. Indeed, the FBI approached the supervisors with a scheme to defraud taxpayers. In many cases, they were very persistent in their approaches to the supervisors. The technique involved handing supervisors cash in exchange for the promise of kickbacks, all caught on tape and camera. Most supervisors pled guilty and didn't fight the charges.
Be that as it may, Mississippi now has the odd reputation of being the most religious, charitable and corrupt state in the nation - all at the same time.
100 times faster
While I was down on the coast at the Mississippi Press Association I heard a presentation on C Spire's ambitious fiber optic project.
C Spire is ahead of schedule and some communities will begin to see fiber connections this fall. Only a tiny fraction of the population has one-gigabyte fiber, mainly in affluent areas of bigger cities. For this to be happening in rural Mississippi is nothing short of astounding.
Nine cities are scheduled to get direct fiber to the home, increasing their Internet speed 100 times. To illustrate what this means, it would take 82 years to download the Library of Congress on a dial-up Internet connection. With one-gigabyte fiber, it would take 45 seconds.
Former Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon talked about the boost in home values in areas where fiber to home was installed in that city. "We don't know what the ultimate benefits will be because so few communities have done it," Reardon said, comparing fiber infrastructure impact to be on the same level as the interstate system.
Former Lafayette, La., Mayor Joey Durel, who brought fiber to that city, was equally upbeat. "What is this going to do for medicine? What is this going to do for education?"
Durel attributes 1,000 new jobs from three companies to fiber. "We know they are in Louisiana because of tax credits but they are in Lafayette because of infrastructure."
Durel spoke of the intense pressure from competitors to block fiber. "Eighteen states have put up impediments that make it impossible to do what Lafayette has done," he said.
"We see Internet and cable rates going up in Baton Rouge but our rates are stable. We've saved three million dollars for our citizens just in rates."