tampabay.com

Thanks for your 2 cents; I'll keep it

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published October 12, 2007


I'm happy to report that Times readers have a degree of honesty that stretches into the stratosphere.

Perhaps I'm wrong to be surprised, but in a recent column I wrote about Largo resident Debbie Cole, a Pinellas County Solid Waste employee who turned in a lost bag containing $65,000 in cash to her supervisor.

I wrote, jokingly, that if I had found the $65,000 I would have turned in all $60,000.

Wow. I might as well have written that I would give crack to kids. Readers responded by calling me "dreadfully disappointing" and said "I lack character and integrity." They described me as a poor role model and unscrupulous.

All this condemnation, just because I said would keep some of the money? A small portion? A finder's fee?

Yep. One person said since I agreed to give most of the money back, she only would read most of my column.

Ouch.

To be honest, I'm not sure what I would do if I found that money. Deep down, none of us can be absolutely certain even though we may think our moral compass would surely lead us to give it back.

The point I was trying to make is that Debbie Cole deserved a substantial reward for her efforts.

Police traced the bag back to Loomis, a Houston-based money-handling company. But county government regulations don't allow Cole to accept a reward.

We see it all the time. Folks doing great things and their only reward: 15 minutes of fame.

One reader essentially said karma will deliver rewards to Cole. Plus, the satisfaction of doing the right thing should be reward enough.

I guess.

Another reader provided some insight, suggesting she would need to know what would happen to the employee responsible for losing the money. Would he be fired if someone kept the money? Would the money be taken out of his paycheck?

Call it situational ethics, but it would be next to impossible to take the family on that Disney cruise if I knew poor Max was standing in the unemployment line because of my selfishness. Now if Max just got a letter of reprimand and the insurance company wrote off the loss ... Now I'll get even more condemnation e-mails.

I guess if decency is not enough reason to make you turn over the cash, then the knowledge that keeping it would adversely impact another life should be. Sure, an unmarked envelope with $2,000 could fetch a new home entertainment center. But what if someone needed that cash to keep their house from going into foreclosure?

As for me and my conflicted morals, the dilemma stems in part from the eternal wish list I carry in my mind: satellite radio, Apple computer, European vacation. Times readers have not so gently reminded me that the best things in life aren't things at all.

The readers' honesty also tells me we may be wrong to lose faith in humanity. It's easy to do when you read about a couple looting $7.9-million from a company, contractors swindling an elderly woman out of her house or a good-looking Romeo pilfering unsuspecting love interests.

But the responses I received indicate this still is an honest world. And maybe, just maybe, that'll make me a little more honest.

So if I find $65,000, I promise, I'll give back all $64,500.

That's all I'm saying.