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.