Mayor De Blasio, Mrs. De Blasio, And Rationalization #68: The Volunteer’s Dodge, Or “You Don’t Pay Me Enough To Be Ethical!”

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), an unapologetic social justice warrior and crypto-socialist, installed his wife, Chirlane McCray, as the executive director of  the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, NYC’s nonprofit foundation. Under the previous mayor, the Fund had raised tens of millions of dollars annually for a wide range of projects, from anti-poverty initiatives to Superstorm Sandy recovery. McCray cannot receive a salary for her job, though the mayor has complained bitterly about this. Nepotism is outlawed under the City Charter in Chapter 68 which forbids public servants using their positions “to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.”

Under the leadership of McCray,  fundraising for the Mayor’s Fund has stalled. In the Bloomberg years, the nonprofit raised an average of $32 million per year, while under Mrs. de Blasio’s stewardship  it has raised an average of $22 million annually, a third less. This may be explained in part by the fact that she often isn’t working at her job. She has attended fewer than half of the meetings of the Fund’s board, and spends just an hour each week on the foundation’s business. It is June, and the New York Times reports that she hasn’t  visited the Fund’s offices in 2018, and was largely absent in the latter half of 2017. As the fund’s revenues have dived, its expenses have soared 50% since she took over,  with the organization moved into bigger offices. The Fund also supports fewer projects.

Sniffs the Times in an editorial, “the Mayor’s Fund under Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray has done less with more.”

De Blasio, who has pretty much solidified his reputation as a jerk, defended his wife by saying that she had done “an extraordinary job,” insisting to critics that  “You’re missing what her work is about.”

Her work is about raising money, and she’s not doing that very well. As the Times says, the first rule of fund-raising is to show up.  Mrs. Mayor helpfully added,  “It’s not about who can raise the most money.” Wait, what? Has anyone explained to her what her job is?

Then de Blasio said this, thus causing the proverbial light bulb to go off in my head, as he perfectly illustrated a rationalization that has somehow missed inclusion on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List:

“She does all that for zero dollars a year.”

“All that” meaning “a crummy job.”

Say hello. Mr. Mayor,  to…

Rationalization #68: The Volunteer’s Dodge, Or “You Don’t Pay Me Enough To Be Ethical!

Back in my community theater days, when I either inspired or infuriated fellow thespians with my insistence that an artist’s obligation to work diligently and tirelessly for artistic excellence was the same no matter what level of theater one was engaged in, I would occasionally encounter an actor, a designer, or a staff member who aroused my ire by being overly casual about their responsibilities, doing a shoddy job, missing deadlines, or refusing to put in the necessary hours to ensure a successful production.  When I made my displeasure known, some of these miscreants would make the serious mistake of trying to excuse their poor performance and breach of trust by saying, “Hey, I don’t get paid for this!” or “You can’t ask so much from volunteers!”

My response, usually before I fired them, was some version of this:

When you accept responsibility to do a job, and others rely on you because you accepted it, you cannot afterward complain about your compensation or lack of same. Ethically, your duty doesn’t change: do what you have promised to do, as well as you can possibly do it. The fact that professionals are paid does not mean they are obligated to do a better job than someone who volunteers. It means that they have proven their value and work habits with their past performance, and thus have been deemed worthy of compensation as a form of insurance against the possibility that a volunteer will behave as you have, which is to say, unethically. 

You agreed to do your job under conditions known to you, and that agreement means only one thing: ‘I’m going to do the job to the best of my ability,’ and not ‘I’m  going to calibrate my efforts according to what I’m being paid.’  You accepted a responsibility, thus precluding someone else from taking on the job who would do it properly.  You should not have to be paid to meet your commitments and obligations. Your rationalization is rejected.

I would also point out that I was not being paid either, and yet I was working seven days a week to put on the best possible show with the human and financial resources available. I expected everyone to approach theatrical projects the same way, professionally, meaning that the mission and the duty were paramount. Compensation should make no difference in dedication or effort, and lack of it doesn’t justify negligence or incompetence. (Just try, if you are a lawyer, explaining to a judge of an ethics committee that your negligence and shoddy handling of respesenation was justified because you were working pro bono.)

A commitment is a promise, and a misleading commitment is a lie.


11 thoughts on “Mayor De Blasio, Mrs. De Blasio, And Rationalization #68: The Volunteer’s Dodge, Or “You Don’t Pay Me Enough To Be Ethical!”

  1. I live in an area where a vast majority of the firefighters are volunteers. They can’t sleep in when there’s a fire or someone injured in a late night accident. They do that and get canned. If you don’t want to put up on a daily basis for a lot of volunteer work, find some other tasks or charity you can help with less diligence. Helping with fundraisers or supplying the firehouse is also valued.

    An honorable person resigns when they realize the job isn’t for them. Why even take the job if there’s no pay enough for you?

  2. The definition of a professional has morphed from one that excels in the delivery of a service to one with merely a degree. Therein lies the problem.

    • There is a lot to unpack in that simple statement. America has pushed for a college degree for everyone, while dumbing down the level of professionalism, diligence, and education that used to be expected of such a person.

      20 years ago I lamented that it was hard to hire a high school graduate that could write an email (in those days, texting was not a root cause of the problem, either). We were not expecting brilliant prose, just clear content, which relies on good grammar and complete sentences.

      Today we have the same complaint about college graduates, who can tell you the rules of minority intersectionality, but cannot write a complete sentence. This from Business majors who never took keyboarding, much less typing,. They have been cheated by their college, and will be paying for that degree for most of their lives. (They are the new slaves, and they don’t even know it.)

      Even my Engineering degree did not handle the topic of ethics (short of the ‘don’t let the bridge fail’ variety) from 30 years ago.

      That is why I am here: to address the deficiency. 🙂

      • This fall I’m going to volunteer teach expository writing at the local 97% Hispanic (Mexican) high school. They let anyone who wants to take AP English and sit for the test. For my opening act I’m going to give them all their own paperback dictionaries. Obsolete technology, but I think that will make the point.

        By the way, I learned how to write by grading ninety or so one page essays while teaching ninth grade back before electricity. Good way to see the five or ten most common composition errors and how to fix them. We’ll see how it goes.

      • Typing class was, by far, the most useful single experience I had in high school. It should be mandatory everywhere.

        • Ditto Isaac. I am a Facebook friend of a couple of my high school teachers. The one who taught me typing – and did so successfully, despite my irresistible impulse to dismantle typewriters, just to see how far I could disassemble them (future DANGEROUS engineer at play, there) – is one of my favorite Facebook friends.

  3. The definition of a professional has morphed from one that excels in the delivery of a service to one with merely a degree. Therein lies the problem.

  4. I once saw pastor of a large church tell the story of walking in on a volunteer as he was painting a children’s room. The painter didn’t recognize the pastor, who asked him why he wasn’t using a drop cloth.

    He replied, “I forgot it at home and I figured I didn’t need it for this job…you know, it’s volunteer.”

    He was immediately told to get out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.