We can establish standards of behavior in our local communities, we can tell individuals that if they violate the established rules they will be responsible and held accountable. However, we cannot teach someone ethics because ethics is programmed and developed from birth over a period of 20 years. Ethics is a personal set of principles that programs us for what is good/bad; right/wrong; normal/not normal. It is embodied in integrity, which means doing the right thing consistently. Personal ethics are usually reflected in personal and professional decisions, just as past behavior is typically a reliable predictor of future performance. Ethics is a gut level value system that is reflected in our character.
Having said this, there is a constant and continual frustration today with the disregard for ethical practices within the public and private sectors. We witness through our media alleged violations and an attitude and practice by the ethically challenged that inflict violations on the spirit of democracy and often decency.
To date we have not developed an effective strategy to combat this egregious assault on our democratic values; and it continues infiltrating our communities’ public and private organizations like cancer. We need teeth in our penalties within our individual communities to make ethically challenged individuals take notice and behave responsibly. As citizens we deserve no less from the people who represent us and make and enforce our laws.
Our ethics commissions and enforcement agencies need the authority to levy suspension from office without pay for the time period that matches the degree of the offense; and when appropriate, for malfeasance in office, our state attorney needs to prosecute to the full extent of the law, with expulsion from public office, and prohibition from holding public office as the judicial outcome.
When individuals are willing to sacrifice integrity because they are afraid of or desire to manipulate the results, it is time to set up a system that tells them: If you cross the line you will be held accountable. Let’s set the rules for what is expected, then follow up and follow through, holding offenders accountable through effective penalties.
Judith Anne Cannon, Pinecrest