Tag Archives: municipal government

Sunday Ethics Revelations, 8/26/18: The B List [Updated]

Hi!

The death of John McCain is  one of many important ethics stories that came on the radar screen today, and several of them warrant solo posts. At the risk of not having time to get them up today at all—this is a work day at ProEthics, for ethics never sleeps—I’m going to keep the warm-up to the lesser stories, and keep my fingers crossed.

1. Miracle Whip, Florida. The town of Mayo, in Florida’s Panhandle, secretly made a deal with the Kraft-Heinz mayonnaise  alternative  Miracle Whip to change the hamlet’s name so videographers could capture the residents’ shock when they hear that the name of their town is now a corporate brand. The plan was for ad-makers to film faux efforts to get residents to remove mayonnaise from their homes. Street signs and the name on the water tower had been changed and the mayor lied in an interview with the Associated Press, insisting it would be a good idea to make the name change permanent, before residents were let in on the joke.

Mayo will get between $15,000 and $25,000 to con its own citizens. The money will be used for city beautification measures, so I guess that makes it OK.

The town should impeach the mayor and everyone involved with the scheme, which was almost certainly illegal, and clearly unethical.

But funny!

2. First Ma’amophobia, and nowThe Atlantic explores the controversy over using “guys” as a generic term for a group of mixed gender members, as in “hey, guys!” It’s an artificial controversy, and women who take offense when a boss says “you guys” when addressing the group knowing very well that no adverse intent was behind the wording should not be indulged, tolerated or “heard.” The problem is that overly sensitive superiors and others have given undo weight to similar contrived complaints through the years, with innocent and innocuous uses of  a whole dictionary of collective nouns and pronouns being declared near equivalents of racial or gender slurs.The confounding factor is that there are terms that need to be retired. The use of “girls” to describe adult women was part of societal marginalization, just as the use of “boy” for adult African American men was demeaning.  Eliminating the descriptive  distinction between “actors” and “actresses,” on the other hand, is based on a contrived offense.

What is objectionable is that any argument for declaring a term offensive is supposed to be per se decisive, without debate or analysis, if it’s offered by a so-called oppressed group. No group should have the privilege of not having to make its case. I will, for one, eat my foot before I submit to the rhetorical abortion that is “person of color.”

There is nothing necessarily wrong with calling a mixed group by the jocular “guys.” The alternatives all stink, in different ways. I will not use “y’all” and sound like a refugee from “Hee Haw.” “People” is imperious, and actually annoys me (though I would never complain about it). “Folks” is more informal (good) but rings phony (bad). “Friends” is presumptuous, speaking of John McCain, whose habit of addressing every group as “my friends” probably lost him a million votes in the 2008 election.

Communication shouldn’t be that hard, and definitely should not be dangerous. A little Golden Rule would go a long way toward eliminating this problem, guys. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, U.S. Society, Workplace

The Great Texas Warrant Roundup

debtors prisons

If the news media did their job, somebody would have asked Ted Cruz about this by now.Something like, “Senator, what is your position on the growing use of debtors prisons in your state and other states around the U.S.?”

On March 5th, Texas commenced what is known as the Great Texas Warrant Roundup, an annual statewide collaboration of courts and law enforcement agencies to squeeze payment of overdue fines and fees from Texans. The Texans targeted are overwhelmingly poor citizens who have outstanding warrants for unpaid traffic tickets, many of which were dubious, the product of aggressive policing to meet budget quotas. The carrot is an amnesty period that precedes the “roundup;” the stick is the threat of arrest and jail for those who can’t pay.

In Texas, a ticket for failing to signal a lane change—a favorite way to start the process of bleeding vulnerable citizens to cover city and county budget shortfalls— will cost about $66. That’s just the beginning, though.  Texas adds $103 in court costs, a public defender fee,  a fee to put you on a payment plan if you can’t pay,  and the always versatile “administrative fee.” Writes the ACLU: “For people who are too poor to pay their tickets, that $66 fine can grow to over $500.”

Once the victim can’t pay the collective fines,Texas will suspend renewal of the driver’s license, adding the License Renewal Suspension Fee, another $30.  Now it’s illegal to drive to the work, and without work, it will be impossible to support a family and pay bills. Faced with that dilemma, many citizens drive anyway, and get eventually get pulled over, leading to more tickets, fines, fees…and more debt. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

The Problem In Ferguson Goes Deeper Than Racism…

A horror story lies within this map.

A horror story lies within this map.

….and focusing only on race just makes understanding and dealing with the real problems impossible. Nonetheless, activists, the news media and the government intentionally ignore the complexities involved, which collectively define a human tragedy and a failing of U.S. governments at all levels.

Washington Post writer Radley Balko has delivered a shocking, disturbing, depressing and eye-opening investigative report on how small municipalities in St. Louis County operate, and how demographic, political and economic trends inevitably cause the tensions and distrust we saw burst into conflagration in the wake of the Mike Brown shooting. If Balko does not win a Pulitzer for this marvel of reporting and analysis, then the awards should eliminated.

You must read the whole piece here. It’s unethical for a responsible citizen not to; I really believe that.  I was originally going to post some excerpts,but I’m not going to, because I know many will just read them and skip the whole, long report. This is a significant and brave work, and attention must be paid. Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, Research and Scholarship

Marion Barry and The Julie Principle

Poor Julie. Luckily for her, she didn't exist. Washington, D.C. does.

Poor Julie. Luckily for her, she didn’t exist. Washington, D.C. does.

The Washington Post just discovered that D.C. Councilman Marion Barry is unethical, and boy, is it steamed!

Well, that’s not quite fair. The Post editors authored an editorial about Barry’s latest example of his complete rejection of ethical principles other than his guiding star, which is “If it’s good for Marion Barry, it’s good for everyone else.” Barry recently published a self-congratulatory, delusional autobiography (I nearly wrote about it, but I was afraid doing so would make me nauseous), “Mayor for Life,” and right in the acknowledgments, he announces that one of his council aides, LaToya Foster, spent “nights, weekends, and many long hours of assistance” working on book at taxpayer expense.  Using D.C. government employees as his personal staff was standard operating procedure for Barry during his various pre- and post-crack terms as mayor, so there is little chance that he played it straight this time. No chance, really. A Washington City Paper investigation of calendar entries and emails showed that Foster’s work on Barry’s book “stretched far beyond her off-hours and into the D.C. Council workday, an arrangement that appears to violate D.C. Council ethics rules.”

The Post should stop editorializing about Barry’s ethics and instead focus attention where it might do some good: the D.C. voters and citizens he has thoroughly exploited and corrupted. Barry is a prime example of what I have dubbed The Julie Principle, evoking the famous lyrics of Julie’s lament in “Show Boat,” “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly…”   If Oscar Hammerstein was writing those lyrics today about Barry, the song, sung by voters of D.C.’s Ward 8, would go,

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly”

Marion Barry will cheat, steal and lie..

Can’t help loving that man of mine. Continue reading

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Hope Lives! D.C. Votes For Ethics

Time for a new fish head in the District of Columbia.

Time for a new fish head in the District of Columbia.

A continuing battle on Ethics Alarms, one that bursts into flame when elections loom, is whether it is responsible to vote for an unethical candidate for office because he or she supports policies the voter favors. I resolutely vote “no” on that proposition, believing that in the long run, government and society are better served by plodding but trustworthy public servants than wily and corrupt ones. The ideal, of course, is to find candidates who are competent, trustworthy, dedicated and who pursue effective policies. Good luck.

Few cities have embraced the opposite of the Ethics Alarms approach more consistently than the District of Columbia. The nation’s most liberal region has traditionally chosen to ignore corrupt city officials, and has paid a high price. A culture of corruption has been festering in the District for decades, spear-headed by the smug, machine-politics reign of Marion Barry, elected both before and after a prison sentence for possessing crack (in the midst of an anti-drug campaign for schoolchildren, naturally). Barry still pollutes D.C. government as a city councilman, but his legacy is complete: the whole government is an ethics sewer.

In 2013, more than thirty D.C. employees were arrested, indicted, pleaded guilty or were sent to jail from  such diverse cesspools as the D.C. Department of Employment Services, the Department of Human Services, the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., a city-owned hospital, the Office of Campaign Finance, D.C. Medicaid, the Corrections Department, a charter school and Medicare. The tally of money embezzled, accepted in bribes, defrauded or spent on illegal political campaign contributions was about $19 million. Former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to stealing $350,000 in taxpayer money meant to benefit children. Former council chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to a felony bank fraud charge; and former council member Michael A. Brown confessed to an illegal bribery scheme. Colbert King, the Washington Post’s city beat columnist who tirelessly urges the city to clean up its act cataloged the extent of D.C.’s corruption last year. He pointed out:

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, U.S. Society

Case Study: Governments That Waste Money And The Consulting Firms That Help Them Do It, As D.C. Hands Out $90,000 For….WHAT????

Great. Thanks a lot, D.C. government.

Great. Thanks a lot, D.C. government.

There is so much to be outraged about regarding the Washington, D.C. “Parent and Family Engagement Summit”  hosted by the city’ s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (D.C. likes to think of itself as a state; it’s cute) in September, it’s hard to know where to start. I  also find it hard to type when I’m trying to stop my head from exploding.

1. Let’s begin with the fact that the city paid nearly $90,000 to a Chicago consulting firm to help it hold the conference, which was only one day, which is to say, about 6 hours, long. This is what having the federal government in your back yard will do to a municipal government’s sense of responsible stewardship. For perspective, think about this: the payment to Chicago-based SPC Consulting exceeds by $12,000 what the average D.C. Public Schools teacher earns in a year for actually doing something. I don’t know what a “parent and family engagement summit” is, but I have a pretty good idea what this one was: an Office of the State Superintendent of Education show-and-tell, so parents could learn what the city is allegedly doing about educating its kids. And I must say, the parents learned, if they were paying attention, what it’s doing, which is wasting their money. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Education, Government & Politics

In Marion’s Footsteps: the Jaw-Dropping Shamelessness of Harry Thomas Jr.

A true role model: Washington D.C. politicians ask, "What would Marion Barry do?"

The most notable scoundrel in recent Washington D.C. government history is former mayor and current City Council member Marion Barry, he of  “The bitch set me up!” fame. What marked Barry was and is his remarkable shamelessness. Whether he was caught smoking crack, or giving government salaries to girlfriends, or not paying his taxes, or engaging in any number of other public and personal outrages, his attitude has always been to shrug his shoulders and presume that everyone will just let him go on being an elected political leader, as if his complete disrespect for law, honesty and responsibility is irrelevant to his qualifications to serve. And you know what? In the District of Columbia, he is correct.

He is also not alone in this attitude, in part because Barry has helped mightily to warp the ethical culture in his city over the past three decades. His most recent disciple is D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who has just agreed to repay the District $300,000 of the taxpayer dollars he misappropriated  for his personal and political use. D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan announced last week that his office was withdrawing a one million dollar lawsuit against Thomas in exchange for that settlement, saving the District the cost of litigation. The lawsuit had been backed up with strong evidence that Thomas used public funds to fund golf trips to Pebble Beach, buy himself an Audi SUV, and in a nice touch of class, pay for a $143.71 visit to Hooters. Funds budgeted by the council for youth baseball was diverted by Thomas to Team Thomas, a nonprofit founded and controlled by the Council member. Naturally, Thomas also was shown to have engaged in plenty of old-fashioned graft,  soliciting gifts and contributions from private businesses contracting with the city.

Is Thomas ashamed? Contrite? Apologetic? Nah! And he isn’t planning on leaving his job, either. Instead, he issued this nauseating statement, saying in part: Continue reading

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