(This article ran on the editorial pages of tinytowngazette.com) – hard copy and web)
by Rod Young
Although the syntax of the phrase “conflict of interest” is clear, this political No-No has been so narrowly defined over recent years as to be nearly meaningless. If a public servant or pol is not directly advantaged financially by his action or actions, then legally he or she is not in conflict.
For example, a pol whose property is located in the controversial “Cat Damn” wetland in Cohasset must “recuse” himself or herself from participation in any related issue, because property values can be affected.
But a Cohassetite whose business interests in Aquarion Water are an ocean removed might be sympathetic to that bidder’s ambition to take over Cohasset water works. And the recently published hundred-page “RFP” might just be a de facto contract in the making – work of cronies –
rather a legitimate request for proposals from any and all.
As every sentient being knows, influence is worth $millions. Revolving doors scorch their bearings, and crony capitalists masquerade like Horatio Alger. Blatant acts – such as of bribery,
payoffs, and nepotism – are not robbing us nearly as much as pretense.
We’ve come to rely upon – that is, fool ourselves with – the abstraction known as “appearance of conflict ….”
A public charlatan not appearing to be acting in his own self interests is thought categorically to be Ok, either because he is legit or just clever by half. That he can skate over ethical thin ice has become a virtue more prized than integrity! But having fallen through s/he just humbly admits human error, and Walla! S/he’s newly made, worthy of even greater adulation for the successful, heart-felt recovery.
The challenge to crooked pols and bureaucrats – especially the smiling unpaid ones – is simply to keep a step removed from deliberate chicanery while traveling on (or paralleling) the road to riches.
Good government as a patriotic, selfless interest is on the wane along with American culture. Honest leaders are systematically being locked out. The process is the more insidious because the typical, professional pol, accommodating his cronies, actually thinks of himself or herself righteous.
“Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall knew who he was – and so did most everyone else. At the time the Democratic Party (actually the so-called, misnomer “Democrat-Republican” party) reveled in thinly veiled patronage and graft under a banner of new bipartisanship.
President Reagan counseled that big government is the problem. More $revenue more $graft. So did Eisenhower warning of the military-industrial complex.
There’s seemingly a significant difference between corruption like Tammany Hall and Solyndra. The culture of corruption has become cultural. In both haute culture and academic attainment the dandies of Rome just before the fall would have the senators of a proud Republic at the turn of the millennium to shame.
As of 2009, there’s a new conflict-of-interest law in effect across the Commonwealth. An “unfunded mandate,” that “… all municipal officials participate in training on the … law,” via two online sessions provided by the Commission.
The very notion that a pol or bureaucrat would but inadvertently act in his own interest rather than that of constituents is absurd. More outlandish, of course, is a government program that pretends to train officials that are dishonest, henceforth to be honest.
The only effective answer to conflict of interest or corruption is a concerned citizenry – concerned, that is, with good government and not handouts. We’ll see how willing and energized the citizens of Cohasset are to ‘throw the bums out this spring and fall.