I was part of this conversation on Facebook yesterday, triggered by a status update from my old friend and mentor:
John J. Bailey is wondering how we elect bad politicians? Why don’t more good people run for office?
Roy Richardson responds: Good people won’t take the abuse, personal attacks and other stuff that go with the election process in this day and age. Which is sad.
I respond: Most of us are unwilling to swim with the snakes. So the snakes just take over. Scary.
John Bailey laments: Great comments guys. Then we get what we deserve, I guess.
Yep. I guess we do.
As I sat down with my local newspaper this morning, the snakes were crawling from every headline. One story proclaims that Illinois Gov. Blagojevich is defying calls for his resignation despite overwhelming evidence of his corruption and deceit. You know that story by now.
On the same page we learn that a prominent attorney and U of Akron trustee has been indicted for violations of Ohio ethics law. Jump to page one of the local section and read about the sentencing of the former Tallmadge recreation director who stole over $100,000 in cash and goodies from his little town of 16,000.
From my seat in the breakfast nook, I see a complete breakdown of ethics among those we have elected and/or appointed to serve the greater good. But none of us is shocked any more. Oh, we shake our heads and wonder how people can be so stupid. But then we go back to our coffee and crossword puzzle.
BTW, I need a 4-letter word for “skinny-dipped.” Can you help me out?
So I can only conclude that John Bailey is right. We get what we deserve.
In the most recent presidential election, many of us voted for “change.” But let’s also remember that our candidate for “change” raised nearly $750 million to fund his campaign. There’s a good chance at least some of those donors are snakes who’ll be seeking quid pro quo. Barack Obama has me feeling optimistic that change can come. Today’s headlines do not.
As public relations professionals, we’re in a bind. We can choose not to “swim with the snakes,” but as their spokespersons and advocates, we must stand up and speak for them — at least if we want to remain employed.
In the face of overwhelming evidence that her boss is a crook, Governor Blago’s spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn, told the press it’s “business as usual” in the governor’s office this week. “At the end of the day, the top priority for our office is to serve the people, and we have not lost sight of that…”
Maybe not, Kelley. And in your defense, you probably have a mortgage to pay and kids to feed. It’s not a fun position to be in – having to defend conduct that’s clearly beyond the pale. But you had to know this when you took the job. Chicago politics is legendary for its corruption.
When Blago’s career ends, so will yours – at least for a time. But for now you’ve chosen to swim with the snakes. I don’t envy you, but I am sympathetic.
At the U of Akron, the indictment of attorney Jack Morrison isn’t as clear-cut, and so far the board of trustees is standing by their man. Morrison is accused of playing a role in the university’s acquisition of a home at a price 40% above market value — a home owned by Morrison’s son. The property was one of many houses in a student slum being bulldozed to make way for a new $61-million stadium. (Don’t get me started on that brilliant use of taxpayer funds!)
Morrison came to his own defense when questioned by the press. The PR professional simply confirmed that Morrison would continue to be a member of the board of trustees and, according to the ABJ story, Uof A “would not comment further.”
Smart move. Snakes will bite you.
In Summit County Common Pleas Court, there was no PR professional to speak for Thomas Headrick, the one time director of the Tallmadge Rec Center. He pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony, and with a little luck he’ll be out on probation in 6 months. It was a sad mea culpa, complete with tears.
There’s no defense for theft in office. But at least Headrick owned up to his misdeeds and has already repaid about 75% of the court-ordered restitution. Amid the “snakes” in today’s headlines, he’s the most accountable.
Its OK to shake your head again.
Unethical conduct by appointed and elected officials is a discussion for a much larger forum than this blog. But we all must be part of that conversation. This post, for example, will become a lesson in my “Ethics & Issues” class next semester. Maybe you can use it to spark conversations in your offices, your PRSA chapters, and even your families. I write about ethics a lot, most recently here and here.
Ethics lies at the core of leadership and is the foundation of trust. Without trust, this business we call public relations becomes irrelevant. We can’t work for snakes.
So talk amongst yourselves, folks. We all have to play a part in fixing this mess. While you chat, I’m going off the grid for a long weekend in the woods. I’ll ask my wife to approve comments.
I’ll be OK, really. It’s too cold for the snakes out there.