Sleaze, in the suburbs?

    It was remarkable yesterday to see a mug shot of Republican Montgomery County Commissioner Jim Matthews (brother of MSNBC host Chris), following a grand jury report into various activities in the leafy suburbs. He was commissioner until yesterday, at least. 

    Matthews is accused of lying to an investigating grand jury.

    I don’t know enough about Matthews to have much an opinion of him, and he’ll have his day in court.

    But I’m always gratified when politicians in the suburbs appear just as human as politicians in Philadelphia, where it’s often presumed you’ll find hacks and thieves behind every government desk.

    The Montco grand jury didn’t charge any crimes other than the perjury and false swearing allegations against Matthews, but it found that:

    – there were non-public, pre-arranged meetings between two of the three county commissioners that “appeared to be improper.”

    – Matthews used $77,000 in campaign funds for “disturbing expenditures” – for his personal credit card and personal vehicle.

    – that the county’s competitive bidding procedures “allow certain service providers to receive favoritism.”

    – that officials running the county’s $150 million Open Space Program were “spending millions of our dollars…carelessly and without any written guidance that we are able to refer to.”

    Kind sounds like Philly, doesn’t it?

    Or maybe not. The grand jury didn’t find enough evidence to make criminal cases in any of those matters, but prosecutors were troubled enough to include them in their official report.

    There’s a new team of Democrats taking over county government in January. Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards said in a statement they would study the grand jury report and “be sure to give due consideration to its findings and recommendations.”

    You can read the DA’s press release, and find the criminal complaint and full grand jury report here.

    It’s also worth noting that prosecutors credited newspaper reports and civilian complaints with getting the investigative ball rolling. The reporting came from the Norristown Times-Herald. Hats off to them, and may their community appreciate the value of strong and independent media.

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