Insider trading and self dealing are not a cool thing in 2002. Thanks to Enron, Arthur Anderson, Adelphia and a few others, America is not amused by people who line their pockets at the expense of shareholders, ratepayers or the public in general.

There is some distance between the depths to which those mega-companies have plummeted and the shenanigans on the Astoria City Council. But a similar drama whose underpinning is self-dealing is being played out in the council chambers.

City Councilor Bob Heilman is making a crusade of casting aspersions on the Historic Landmarks Commission. His latest gambit is a ballot measure that would make the HLC merely an advisory committee. Since there is insufficient time to put that on the November ballot, Heilman has suggested an advisory vote on what the public thinks of the HLC.

All of this masks the reality of Heilman's self-dealing. He is trying to orchestrate the demise of the HLC because that commission has called attention to the inadequacy of his renovations of the Portway Tavern, a historic building on Marine Drive.

Heilman wants us to believe the HLC is beating up on him unfairly.

The simple truth of the matter is that Heilman did not obtain a building permit to have the work done. The simple truth is that Heilman used an unlicensed contractor to do the work.

All of these, Heilman wants us to believe, were mere oversights, a product of his busy schedule.

What Heilman refuses to do is take responsibility for being an elected leader of the city. When you are in that position, you really ought to obey the law. You ought to obtain a building permit. You ought to use a licensed contractor.

Heilman wants the rest of us to believe that the HLC and the regulations it enforces are onerous. Speaking to the City Council Monday night, HLC Chairman Dave Pollard who has served for 11 years said that, "Very few of the proposals that come to the commission are turned down. Many were improved by the process. Those applicants that were disappointed are in a significant minority."

It isn't good for business when the leaders of an organization, whether they are corporate executives or city councilors, willfully ignore the law and trash the enforcers for noticing the breech. It is even worse when the scofflaws flaunt their infractions and evasions.

What's the message to the rest of us? Don't bother to obtain a building permit? Use an unlicensed contractor? Have the work done on Sunday to evade attention?

Heilman's colleagues ought to be embarrassed by the prolonged, hollow spectacle that he's visited upon them. His idea of putting a public opinion poll on the ballot is more diversion. It is also a waste of taxpayer money.

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