ETHICS IN GOVERNANCE
Ethical Dilemmas, Biased Discretion and Deleterious Dogma
Or Fair and Ethical Governance
Do you desire honesty in local government affairs? Ethical dilemmas present difficult choices among alternate solutions. Within these decisions, discretion and discernment are key skills. Bias, however, can taint discretion, discernment and ultimately decisions.
How do municipalities find fair governance amid ethical dilemmas, biased use of discretion and duplicitous dogma of the past? We begin by developing an understanding of ethical standard concepts in government. We move forward by knowing what we will and will not accept. These are actions that do NOT have an ethical home in governance.
Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.
Secret Conduct of Public Business in government offices leads to the opportunity to cover up unethical behavior. Secrecy is an ally of corruption; and corruption always seeks secrecy – they make great bedfellows. In a democracy, it is generally recognized that the people have a right to observe and address the workings of government. It is in the interest of the people for the administration of public affairs to be conducted openly.
Biased Discretion – local governance relies on both discretion and accountability. Biased discretion can taint rules, regulations, policy and decisions laid down by the legislature. What’s the bias? It can be a personal, political or social preference, it can be a personal embellishment, thus ignoring the facts presented and removing rational decision making. It could well be that all the prescribed rules, regulations and procedures are adhered to but that the discretionary choice may be regarded as unprincipled or even fraudulent.
Corruption - Corruption is a key challenge in government office. Simultaneously, many officeholders maintain the high standards vital to public service, driven to promote and stand for social welfare. The moral standards of public officials are, however, only causally related to society. The corruption of public officials by private interests is usually indirect. For example, favors by the public to the official under obligation gradually substitute the official’s duties of civic loyalty with quid pro quo favors. The public official faces an ethical dilemma concerning his response to the offering of favors and corrupt practices. If a corrupt practice or an attempt at corruption is exposed, it is quite possible that the official’s personal loyalties or party-political relationships may in conflict with official responsibilities.
Village Council makes decisions that impact all our lives. They set policy on land development regulations, taxation, workforce housing protections, parking and code enforcement, to name a few. In the past, did they make these decisions with concern for Islamorada’s welfare or did they use deleterious discretion? Did they give favors to friends and exploit others? Did they support our future wellbeing or to them was public office a deep dive into the taxpayers’ pockets, taking much and giving back little?
Thomas Paine said, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” The late great US Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren once said, “The nation's morals are like its teeth, the more decayed they are the more it hurts to touch them." And since ethics are moral principles that guide conduct, good ethics in governance should rank high in society. Alas, policymakers in government bodies are often challenged by conflicting responsibilities. They have definite loyalties to their bosses, but also to society. They have the liberty to act on behalf and in the interest of others, meanwhile, they must answer to others, their superiors and society for their actions. The official’s obligation to respect the political process may conflict with his view on how the objects of policymaking are treated. It can be understood that the dilemma of the public official is the clash between his opinion of the public interest and the requirements of law.