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Holt's removal was needed Lawmaker's bluster can't obscure fact tax nonpayment violated public trust

Call it representation without taxation. And call it clear grounds for being removed from public office.

George A. Holt Jr. -- who, according to the Erie County attorney, is now a former member of the Erie County Legislature -- pleaded guilty this month to two misdemeanor counts of making fraudulent tax statements.

The lawmaker had rejected calls for his resignation and planned to seek re-election. Even though his formal plea admitted the deliberate filing of false statements to cover up his failure to pay $20,000 in sales taxes collected at his East Side restaurant, Holt clings to the explanation that it was sloppy bookkeeping, not criminal intent, that he was guilty of.

Wednesday, though, County Attorney Laurence K. Rubin issued, and Legislature Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli accepted, a legal opinion holding the issue of resignation moot. County officials say state law, judicial rulings and attorneys general opinions ended Holt's tenure of office the minute he pleaded guilty to a crime involving "intentional dishonesty or corruption of purpose."

It was the right call.

Holt was neither charged with, nor found guilty of, the kind of official malfeasance that involves taking bribes or other misuse of public office for personal gain. Still, the presence on a public body of a person who formally has admitted violating tax laws is something under which neither the public nor its government should have to labor.

County lawmakers, like their counterparts at the city, state and federal levels, routinely make decisions determining how much taxes other people will pay and what will be done with the money. For one of those decision-makers to stand convicted of failure to pay his own taxes taints the entire process.

It deprives the government of the ethical stature it requires to expect other people to pay their taxes or, if unable to pay, to at least be honest about it and seek to make amends. Any taxing or spending decision made by a legislative body with Holt as a member would be subject to derisive second-guessing, with suggestions that at least one member doesn't care what taxes he imposes because he's not going to pay them anyway. Any decisions made with his vote also would be open to challenge, under the laws that county officials say mandate his removal.

If there is any tragedy here, it is that Holt didn't have the grace to see how he had booted away the public's trust and have the grace to resign. He should end his protests and appeals, return quietly to private life and pay his taxes as best he can.

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