Even before Shamokin's attempt to obtain a federal COPS grant failed, city council members had set themselves up for trouble.

On the evening of May 13, just nine days before the original May 22 application deadline, council approved a contract for Green Reliance Associates to pursue the grant - for which it typically takes "weeks" to apply.

Not only was the city short on time, but council members OK'd spending $2,500 for a COPS grant application that, just four years ago, was done - successfully - at no cost.

Additionally, council members knowingly hired the wife of city clerk Steve Bartos to do the work. No one at the meeting at which the contract was approved acknowledged that Green Reliance was operated by Meg Bartos; that fact was revealed only through further investigation by The News-Item.

Had everything gone as planned and Shamokin been awarded the grant - or at least got a completed application filed by the deadline, neither of which happened - this all may have passed without controversy.

But not only did the city buck the odds on time, pay a city employee's wife $2,500 for work that's been done before at no cost, and do so without revealing the potential conflict of interest, it then stood idly by while Steve Bartos cut a check for his wife's full contract amount on the same day the invoice was submitted, May 24 - 11 days before the newly established COPS grant deadline.

Council members need full-time employees to carry out the day-to-day administration of the city, but they should reinforce the fact that they are the ones in charge.

A few council members have suggested they're "irritated" at the situation, but otherwise there has been little concern expressed and no word of any further action regarding this debacle. Perhaps that's because the council members have no one to blame but themselves.