October 10, 2018 10:39:22 AM
Until eight days ago, Stephen Jones seemed to comport himself as a model citizen. Since joining the council as its Ward 5 representative 2-1/2 years ago, he's acted in that role with what's appeared to be unflappable integrity. He's often been an independent swing vote, and he's never been one to shy away from explaining his positions or accepting accountability for his decisions.
But, indeed Jones is now caught up in scandal for having improperly received hundreds of dollars of merchandise from the Columbus Bargain Hunt.
So far, the councilman's response is sorely lacking and runs counter to the behavior his constituents have come to expect.
Bargain Hunt and Columbus police are only pursuing charges against the cashier, who apparently allowed thousands of dollars' worth of product to walk out of the store unpaid with at least seven customers, including Jones and Jones' wife. Police have said repeatedly none of the customers, including Jones, is expected to face prosecution. But there's video evidence, corroborated by register invoices and credit card receipts that show Jones receiving alarming amounts of merchandise from the store for which he did not pay, all after being checked out by the cashier now being charged with embezzlement.
In response, Jones has denied he did anything wrong. He said, "I paid for all my stuff," insists he doesn't personally know the cashier and called the police department's press conference last week, in which the police chief implicated Jones as a beneficiary in the case, an effort to smear the councilman's name.
Then Jones hired a lawyer and went silent. He said he hadn't seen the reports or the surveillance videos but declined, albeit respectfully, the opportunity to review them at The Dispatch office. Now, he seems content to let the whole thing blow over and hide behind the fact he likely won't face criminal charges.
If he was the cashier or a private citizen in his position, that would be good enough, we suppose. But Jones is a councilman entrusted with deciding on fiscal policies that affect citizens' lives. That alone makes a "time heals all wounds" response woefully inadequate.
Even giving Jones the benefit of the doubt, which we are willing to do, he most certainly didn't "pay for all of his stuff." Maybe he thought he did at the time because maybe the cashier told him he was getting deeper discounts than was due him.
But now he knows better. At minimum, he should either return the merchandise he improperly obtained or pay Bargain Hunt the difference. Then he should acknowledge to the public he was duped and show evidence he rectified the situation.
The other possibility, of course, is that Jones was complicit in the crime. If this is the case, it's certainly not the first time a public official has been caught up in something improper. Jones should admit it, apologize to the store and his constituents and let the consequences of telling the truth bear themselves out.
We're not calling for Councilman Jones to step down, necessarily, especially if he has truly not willfully done anything wrong. But we deserve more than what we've received so far.
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