Thursday, May 03, 2007

Legal does not equate to ethical

The new so-called Knox County Ethics Committee took up charges of nepotism and cronyism yesterday. The result was that the Committee found the complaint "not credible."

I am not certain what members of this so-called ethics body think qualifies as credibility. The reason that I don't know is because the question deserves to to be asked: Does widespread public knowledge of reality need more credibility than the mere attendance at a Knox County Commission meeting? If someone attends such a meeting, they will find not one, and not two, but five Commissioners who work as employees of the County in another capacity aside from their seat on the County Commission. That means that if the Knox County Commission had something like a Rule 13, these Commissioners would have to declare it the vast majority of the time.

In addition, another eight Commissioners have immediate relatives who work for the County, and that means that these people vote on things that directly affect their families not occasionally, but all the time. Reverend Ron Stewart, the Chair of the Ethics Committee, had it right:

"I believe Knox Countians are looking to this committee to reinstate their trust...This issue is important to the majority of citizens and if we don't deal with it now because the i's aren't dotted and the t's aren't crossed, we will deal with it later."

Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond, a committee member, apparently thought the complaint was worth dismissing because "nothing illegal has been done." That is very true, nothing illegal has been committed, but just because something passes the muster of the civil law does not make it the right thing to do ethically or morally. For something to be ethically right it must pass a much higher standard, and in this case the civil law allows for an unbelievably broad conflict of interest that is hardly in the best interest of the people of Knox County or the residents of any county in America.

The work of the Ethics Committee interests me not only as a former resident of Knox County, but for the fact that surrounding counties like my own, and perhaps counties all over the State, will be looking to this Committee to see how it deals with issues like nepotism-perhaps the most important issue it must deal with.

Jefferson County Government is far from perfect, but it is worth pointing out that while people complain about its ineffectiveness all the time, rarely (if ever) does anyone make the kinds of complaints that people make against Knox County, nor does the public complain with the same veracity. A big part of the reason for this may be that the Jefferson County Commission meets quarterly instead of monthly (though there are several more meetings if work sessions and special meetings are counted), so there is much less opportunity for them to engage in mischief.

The larger problem is that even members of this Ethics Comission seem to consider themselves above the standards of what would normally qualify as ethical behavior. Until this mentality is changed, Knox County Government cannot be expected to fundamentally be changed.



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