03/03/06 — It’s about integrity: Ethics isn’t a difficult concept

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It’s about integrity: Ethics isn’t a difficult concept

It’s great that Gov. Mike Easley has appointed former Superior Court Judge Robert Farmer to head the state’s Board of Ethics.

Although there is little to judge him on yet, many observers say Farmer is just the person to put in charge of the ethics process. They say his judicial career has been marked with integrity and fairness — and the ability to overlook politics and posturing to get to the heart of what’s right and just.

Seems like pretty good qualifications for running an ethics cleanup.

We will have to wait and see what happens.

But the ethics process in this state — and anywhere for that matter — should bring a bemused smile to anyone’s face who looks closely at what it takes to get it done.

Why is it that simple rules of doing what’s right require so many meetings and so much brow-furrowing?

After all, aren’t the basic rules of ethics simple — and similar to what your mother and father taught you years ago about right and wrong?

If you are a legislator, you are not supposed to take money from any group that has an agenda that would require you to make specific decisions that would benefit its members.

And, unless you truly believe that an issue is one that would benefit your state and constituents, you should not propose legislation anyway.

So, for example, if an interest group takes you on a trip to Hawaii complete with $5,000 in food and golf games, then offers you a campaign donation, you pretty much know there are going to be strings attached. They are going to expect you to advocate for their position.

So, you probably know you should not be there in the first place.

Listen to their arguments and consider their position from your desk, not the 18th hole.

See? Simple.

During Speaker Jim Black’s recent ethics troubles, some said that the rules he followed were not clear and that there was reason to believe that he could have misinterpreted them. That could have been part of the problem with his campaign financing, they surmised.


Let’s head back to the school yard for the answer to this one.

If you know that you are not supposed to run on the playground — on any part of the playground — and you go over to the corner of the asphalt, out of the sight of the teacher and head at top speed to the kickball game, you know you ran on the playground and broke the rules — even if the violation was only a technicality and no one saw you.

Again, simple. Do what you would do if there was an ethics monitor standing right next to you.

We are going to spend a lot of time talking about ethics over the next few months. Maybe thinking back to past lessons learned might help. It’s just an idea.

Published in Editorials on March 3, 2006 10:56 AM