Ethics Mega-Dunce: The First National Bank in Wellston, Ohio

Katie Barnett, the victim.

Katie Barnett, the victim.

As I cull the news to find good topics for ethics discussions, the single thought that goes through my mind most frequently is this: “What is the matter with people?”  This is often followed by “How do people get this way?” and later, “What can we do with them?”

Most ethical decisions are not brain teasers. They are strikingly obvious, unless you are determined to do wrong, an evil super-villain, or were raised in a barn. How people of influence without a serious head injury can make the horrible decisions they do is one of the mysteries of the age, along with the fate of Judge Crater, the elusiveness of Bigfoot, and the continuing popularity of Jimmy Kimmel.

Imagine, for example, that you run a bank. The Three Stooges wannabes who you sent to repossess a home get the address wrong (the lawn hadn’t been mowed, so they “just assume”), and they trash the wrong house. They remove possessions, losing some, auctioning off others, damaging the rest. The innocent owner of the home comes to you and points out that your contractors screwed up outrageously, a fact that is beyond rebuttal. She presents you with a good faith estimate of the property that was lost—never mind the trauma of having her home emptied by strangers and the fact that she has had to live elsewhere for two weeks. What do you do?

If you are the president of the First National Bank in Wellston, here’s what you do, because you have a non-functioning ethics alarm and more than a few screws loose in other places besides: you reject her assessment, and try to low-ball her on the amount.

“What is the matter with people?”

“How do people get this way?”

The president, a man with the name that should live in infamy of Tony Thorne, if he were raised and educated with a properly functioning cerebrum and possessed of the decency Mother Nature gave a badger, would take the owner’s bill, double it, write her a check, fall on his knees to ask forgiveness, and promise not to sleep until the woman’s home was as inviting, well-furnished and stocked with necessities as it was when Moe, Larry and Curly struck. But no.  Mr. Thorne was evidently was not so raised, and has no such qualities, at least in a sufficient quantity, so this Ethics Dunce that walks like a man is determined to affirm every negative stereotype regarding bankers since the heyday of melodrama. He will ruin the bank’s reputation, alienate the community, subject his employer to petitions, the barbs of comics and, one hopes, a massive lawsuit, and pretty much ensure that his next career path will involve posing for photos with children from inside a giant, air-cooled. brightly-colored furry costume.

Accountability? “What?” Compassion? Empathy? Fairness? “Excuse me, I’m not reading you.” The Golden Rule? “Huh?”  Ethics? “Sorry, this bank doesn’t carry that.” Like the brain-numbing news accounts of teachers punishing young children for the shapes they bite into their pizzas, the First National Bank in Wellston has allowed itself to fall under the control of the awful, dangerous, life-sullying subspecies of human who can’t perceive the importance of doing the right thing, rather than what some lame, poorly drawn, badly planned and inapplicable policy or directive dictates.The question of how the Tony Thornes of the world get this way is important to explore so we may prevent future similar mutations, but now the only pertinent question is

“What can we do with them?”

The consequences of this miserable conduct must be swift and unequivocal for both organization and representative—-for the organization/employer, mass-communicated humiliation and financial retribution, for the representative, in this case the heartless, senseless, ethicsless president, shame, shunning, and penury, so well publicized that future bank presidents who find themselves in his position, even if they are similarly devoid of virtue and wit, will know enough not to follow in his doomed path, out of sheer terror is sharing Thorne’s fate.

Only then can we ensure a society fit for human beings.


Pointer and graphic: Rick Jones

Facts: 10tv, Columbus Dispatch


12 thoughts on “Ethics Mega-Dunce: The First National Bank in Wellston, Ohio

  1. Here’s how it happens: Mr. Thorne is an employee of the bank. He reports to the board of directors. They review the P and L of the Bank every month. The bank has a law firm that does a lot of work for them. The senior partner is probably a member of the board. Mr. Thorne calls the senior partner and asks him what he thinks he should do. The senior partner says, “See how much she’ll take. Is she represented by a lawyer yet? Maybe we can settle this for less than she wants. You know the rule, always ask for twice what you’re willing to settle for and always start out offering half what you’re willing to pay.” The partner hangs up knowing Mr. Thorne will do as he’s told and that if the woman doesn’t take the offer, she’ll hire a lawyer and sue the bank and then he’ll but a senior associate on it and bill the bank for more than the woman will ever get.

    It’s a wonderful life, Jack.

    That’s how it happens.

  2. I wonder how much all the possessions in his home are insured for? Don’t any of these people have any empathy, that something like this could have happened to them or someone they care for?

    I’m also rather troubled that this is not being treated as theft. Things taken by a corporation, without any right to do, so should be treated as theft, bot hidden behind corporate deniability. Her possessions did not spontaneously walk away from her home. It’s easy and lazy to do nothing, and there should be consequences!

  3. “She called the McArthur Police about the incident, but weeks later, the chief announced the case was closed.”

    Nothing to see here, move along.

    Without a police report of some crime, it’s most unlikely that the insurance company’s “policies” – or the insured’s policy – will allow any payout. They may make an offer, but as the bank president said ‘We’re not paying you retail here, that’s just the way it is,’”

    Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been happening in the USA recently regarding banks, mortgages,and repossessions. Judgements entered on the record before hearings are heard for example – but as long as there’s a hearing, that’s regarded as “due process”.

  4. Two possibilities about what the bank is thinking:
    1. “Everyone is unethical, so let’s just go ahead and take a chance that our unethical behavior won’t be noticed.”
    2. “She’s probably lying about what she lost anyway.”

    • The problem I see with option 2 is that 18,000 strikes me as a modest amount to lie for. Unless she’s super cunning and is gaming how much she thinks she could get away with.

      Who knows, she could be trying to swindle the bank. Who knows?

      When we have to analyze warranty work on our landscape installations in regards to plant materials, obviously we have to determine if the client has properly maintained the plants we installed. However. We have a guideline that even if it looks like a client is clearly the cause of their plant’s demises, its not worth digging a $5,000 PR grave over $500 worth of plants.

      For $18,000, I don’t see how the bank didn’t make that judgment.

  5. I had a hunch and did a little digging around to locate the home on Google maps. The house appears to be located in a lower middle class neighborhood. Odds are, if this had happened in a wealthier neighborhood (i.e., the owner was more likely to be educated and connected), this would have ended differently. I believe that the bank president saw a blue collar woman that he could push around. Time for some new glasses.

  6. Why do banks and cities get special rights in case like this? Why aren’t’ the banks held to the same laws as everyone else? If I broke into someone’s house, changed the locks, sold their belongings, I would be in jail. It wouldn’t matter if I was supposed to do that to my brother-in-law’s house and I got the address wrong. If I got a backhoe and level someone’s house, I am going to jail.

    I think this is one of the big problems in this country. From the mortgage-backed-securities to the loss of access to the legal system, common people are losing their rights. If my cell-phone company rips me off or my extended warranty company cancels my policy prematurely (as soon as I make a claim) I no longer have any rights to the legal system. I have to go to the company’s legal system. Who went to jail for the largest fraud ever perpetuated on the American people? The Supreme Court ruled that it is OK for cities to take people’s property with little or no compensation under eminent domain as long as they sell it to richer people.

    We have two sets of rights now, first class rights for bankers, large companies, major and minor officials and second class rights for everyone else.

    • Newsflash: Not everyone in America has equal power. I’d recommend not sitting around waiting for a system that gives you power equal to that of Bill Gates. Just get educated, get as good a job as you can, work hard, educate your kids and hope for the best. Unlike most of the rest of the world, we all still have a chance if we’re diligent and careful enough here in the U.S.

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