A fine one to talk about ethicsIn what is perhaps the most stunning piece of irony I have heard of in a long time, Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale can be found in this morning's Knoxville News-Sentinel talking about what a good idea the draft ethics proposal for County Governments formulated by the County Technical Assistance Service at the University of Tennessee:
"This is making certain there aren't any conflicts of interest you're voting on, by you or your family members," Ragsdale said. "It makes sure you don't get involved in taking gifts that influence policy. For example, every year the senior citizens present me with a cheese ball. I would not view that as a conflict. If they wanted to fly me to the Caribbean with hopes of getting a new senior citizen center, that would be a conflict."
Aside from stating the obvious (something that is already a conflict of interest both morally and legally) what is Ragsdale hoping to accomplish by putting this legislation into effect in Knox County? Mike Ragsdale is a fine example of ethics in government...I'm sure there is nothing specific in the new proposal to prevent County Executives from sending their hirelings hacking after confidential intra-party e-mails in order that they might fish out potential political opposition, is there?
I'm not saying that these new ethics proposals are a bad idea-they aren't. What is at issue here is whether proposals like these are really going to change our political culture at the local level in Tennessee, an environment swimming with influence-peddling, dishonesty, greed, and even hatred in some cases. I know that when people have friends who work in government, they might put in a call to their buddies in order to get something done a little quicker or bring something to their attention-it happens, I have done it myself on several occasions. That will always happen in government as long as elected officials have real lives with families, friends, and a social circle. That is not the real issue here-the real issue is whether these local and State elected officials are out for their own advancement, or if they got into public life to serve their community, their State, the country, and the people they were elected to represent.
Not every State or local elected official in Tennessee is rotten-I am willing to be so bold as to say that most are well-intentioned and are in public life for all the right reasons. The problem is that we seem to put the rotten sorts in higher office and keep them there in large numbers. When we complain about ethics problems in government, before we run our mouths condemning politicians we ought to look in the mirror, because in many cases we are the people who vote these folks in and out of office.
Labels: Local politics