St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Ethics 101: Wear a sheet and, oh yeah, don't steal

CHASE SQUIRES
Published October 5, 2003

Wary of falling into the all-consuming void of ethical limbo, Hernando County honchos have embarked on a pilgrimage to Mount Ethics.

That's not a hill in east Pasco. It's a metaphor.

So what happened is, honchos assembled last week in Brooksville ("The Athens of East Central Hernando County") and talked about training county employees in ethics.

"We see a need for this," Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai said, as reported by an ethical scribe from the St. Petersburg Times.

Well, never let it be said I am one to shirk civic responsibilities. When the cry for help goes out, I am there.

Unless "help" involves painting. Painting is just plain, hard work.

Same goes for digging. Projects that involve a shovel or a paintbrush are out. But I'm good for anything else.

Except raking.

So when the cry for help goes out, and it doesn't involve actual work, or donating money, then I am there.

Hernando County, I hear your cry, and I will help.

The big question is, how do you teach ethics?

A bigger question might be, if you're calling the county seat "the Athens of East Central Hernando County," why is nobody wearing a toga?

Wearing a toga reminds people of ethical Greek and Roman philosophers and guarantees ethical behavior.

That and saying the word "forsooth" a lot.

Training seminar:

"Don't steal from taxpayers, Johnson."

"Forsooth."

I asked Hernando County Honcho Dick Radacky if the county is considering togas for all employees.

"Absolutely not," he said.

Too bad.

The need for an ethics policy was uncovered by auditors reviewing city coffers, Nicolai said.

Weren't auditors involved in that whole Enron thing?

The auditors' complaint was that the Parks and Recreation Department's books were so muddled, it was hard to tell if money was missing.

If you've ever read through a government budget, you might have assumed that was the goal.

But Hernando apparently isn't alone. Ethics policies have generated an industry. One company, called Integrity Interactive, is based in Massachusetts ("The Ethics State.")

Integrity Interactive, a real company composed largely of lawyers, teaches many courses on ethics and has an impressive array of mission statements.

As the company Web site boasts: "A premier team of ethics and compliance experts assure "best practice' design and implementation."

That's exactly what Hernando County needs! "Best Practice" design and implementation.

And metaphorical togas.

Radacky said Hernando County will develop its own ethics tutorials rather than spend taxpayer money on people to teach employees not to get crazy with taxpayer money.

That might be good thinking. Besides, it probably would cost less to let a few bucks wander out the door than to hire consultants.

Here's a cheaper alternative: Something comes up, and you're not sure which choice is most ethical, you call me.

I will be the Hernando County ethical counselor. Like that Russian guy, Rasputin.

"A resident is paying his tax bill in wads of dirty, unsequential $100 bills. What should I do?" for example.

Agreed, there's a temptation to hold the wad of cash high in the air, pump your fist and shout, "Yessss!"

But I would counsel against that.

The ethical thing to do is buy lottery tickets with the money.

When you win, you keep the windfall, but you pay back the county for the money you borrowed, with interest.

As the Florida Lottery reminds us, "When you play, we all win."

"We" means "not you."

Here's another option, the one-line ethics policy: "Thou Shalt Not Steal."

Remember, when it comes to public policy, there's the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and my own personal, ethical choice.

The Toga Party.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.