Integrity Matters
May 24, 2006

Basic ethics should need no instruction

Question: (E-240)

Dear Jim:

Monterey County officials are seeking tighter controls on the use of county credit cards in the wake of suspected abuses by a county elected official. Is it necessary to spend our tax dollars to train officials to distinguish between right and wrong?


No, and how discouraging that adults need to be treated like rebellious children! What kind of clarity is still needed when credit cards are provided for business purposes? When there is any question about whether an expense is business-related, "business" credit cards should not be used. A personal credit card should pay any "questionable" expense. Later the charge can be reviewed by appropriate authorizing agents who can determine legitimate reimbursement.

Youngsters understand right behavior. They know that when they are asked to go into the store to purchase food, they are not to squander the money on candy and frivolous items. And, so do adults.

The Bracher Center's first two Integrity-Centered Attributes make the point clearly:

  • Character is consistency between word and deed. Leaders must exhibit congruence between what they say and what they do, as well as what they say about what they did. An 8-year-old from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County told me character was "what people do when no one is watching." Credit-card abuse is wrong.
  • Honesty is truthful communication that is reflected by leaders - including public servants - who would never intentionally engage in, or sanction, misrepresentation.

Using business credit cards for non-business activities is not solved with training. It is resolved at the point of hiring and vetting. Stealing money using a credit card is wrong and against the law.

Allow me to make the point of just how ridiculous this issue has become. Enjoying humor and comedy, loving to tickle my "funny bone," I often watch reruns of a television comedy series called "Seinfeld." In one episode, the goofy character George is confronted by his boss who asks George a question: "Did you have sex, in your office, with the woman who cleans our offices, last evening?"

To which George asks who provided the boss with such disturbing information. George's supervisor indicates that the cleaning woman herself reported the incident. With a long pause, George appears to ponder the dilemma and then says to his upset boss: "Was that wrong?" Then, to add more fuel to the fire, George continues with his idiocy: "I don't recall anything specific about a situation like this ever being discussed in my employee orientation."

George was fired, immediately. Solid, powerful humor!

Irresponsible behaviors risk reputations and careers.

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