Thursday, June 11, 2015

Damn the Ethics, Full Speed Ahead

Damn the Ethics, Full Speed Ahead

This guest column was also published in the June 9th edition of the Journal Press.

I wish we could clone Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s wise and comedic conscience, and gift him to every local official in the county. Perhaps Jiminy could counteract the temptation to ignore that inner voice that keeps whispering “This isn’t right,”  while others keep pushing, by any means possible, to get something done. The county annex project reached that point at the June 2 Commissioners Meeting,where it was (with apologies to the US Navy) Damn the ethics, full speed ahead!

It is legal to be unethical in Indiana. Conflict of interest has been watered down by our ethically challenged legislature to only include you and your immediate dependents living in your household. 

And yet the IRS definition of family in their conflict of interest instructions to non-profits defines family as all relationships from spouse, siblings (whole and half), children, grand and great- grandchildren, and all their spouses and even ancestors! (See form 1023 p 33 IRS instructions) 


One of the best conflict of interest policies that addresses both legal and ethical ones comes from the Center for Wise Democracy:
 “…no member of the Board of Directors shall participate in any discussion or vote on any matter in which he or she or a member of his or her immediate family has a potential conflict of interest due to having material economic involvement regarding the matter being discussed. When such a situation presents itself, the director must announce his or her potential conflict, disqualify himself or herself, and be excused from the meeting until discussion is over on the matter involved.” 

And not vote on it. 


Our Planning and Zoning department also uses that concept and removes even the perception of conflict of interest.

Currently we have an annex funding issue where the Randy Lyness, President of Council not only has an ethical conflict of interest, he has it on several levels. When asked abut it at a meeting earlier this year, he admitted to finding out just recently that his son is in fact an owner of Maxwell Construction, the Construction Manager contracted for the annex and the previous jail project. His son is listed in the contract with a management role. He also has brothers, some nephews and a brother - in- law also in this company. It’s not just a son. Maxwell Construction has made nearly $600,000 on the jail and the annex will be approximately the same amount as the jail was per their project manager and contract. The Maxwell contract for the annex was approved by Commissioners without going out to bid. That funding for Maxwell comes out of the whole annex project funding that Council is set  to discuss and vote on soon.


Lyness recently presented a disclosure statement  signed May 26,2015 at the May 26th Commissioner/Council Meeting. He told Council last week, he thinks they should fund the annex. He is reportedly mulling over his role and having a hard time deciding what he will do if the vote on funding comes down to a tie and he has to vote to break it. 

I know what Jiminy Cricket would say. It takes a lifetime to earn the respect of friends, family, and the public. That can all come unravelled by not listening to your conscience. I think President Lyness knows what he needs to do. And I hope his colleagues respect him if he chooses to listen to his conscience instead of the background noise of those only interested in their personal stake in this project. Because it takes courage to stand up at a time like this and do the right thing. 

It is hubris to believe that the project will not survive without Council President Lyness leading the discussion and vote. Even the judges know that the project can proceed without Council. One of them has already said she can mandate it. That is not unethical.

Christine Brauer Mueller
Lawrenceburg Township

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