Ethics – The truth, Governor David A. Patterson and some Yankee’s tickets – This is no home run!

Funny thing about “truth” and “ethics” – the definition of both are in the eye of the beholder and neither are always black and white.  As a business ethics speaker, I find that I am called on frequently to define “business ethics” and when the presentation is over – all agree that you can’t define something that isn’t concrete.  That said, the news today is filled with stories about something that to some is not news worthy and too others is at the heart of trust – a solid component of ethical behavior.

The New York Times reports:

Gov. David A. Paterson misled investigators for the state ethics commission when he testified that he had intended to pay for free tickets he obtained to last year’s World Series, according to a report issued on Thursday by an independent counsel investigating the matter.

But the independent counsel, Judith S. Kaye, said it was up to the local district attorney in Albany, P. David Soares, to decide whether Mr. Paterson, a Democrat, should be prosecuted for perjury.

Now…as I read this story, I found myself confused.  What’s all the fuss about?  Then it became clear…it is not about the World Series or whether the Governor attended – taking his son and friends.  This story is about the truth!  This story is about whether Governor David A. Patterson has – as his moral compass – a foundation of ethical behavior when it comes to his actions and his words being congruent.  I do understand, as I had that very issue posed to me just yesterday.  Funny, but how two people perceive the truth can be very different.

The story goes on to state:

Aides to Mr. Paterson obtained five tickets to the first game of the 2009 World Series, which Mr. Paterson attended along with two aides, his son, Alex, and a friend of his son.

The tickets eventually came under the scrutiny of the state’s Commission on Public Integrity, which found that Mr. Paterson had never intended to pay for his own ticket and only paid for his son and son’s friend after the news media inquired about the matter.

The commission also concluded that Mr. Paterson had lied during his testimony about the tickets, a matter the commission referred last spring to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who in turn asked Ms. Kaye to investigate.

Now…as a business ethics speaker, it is my role to uphold the highest of ethical actions and interpretations.  But, let’s just call it like it is… with our lives effectively placed at the fingertips of technology, I wonder if this were 40 years ago, would anyone care?  And, if the answer to that is “No” – heck they wouldn’t have even known…  then why do we care today?  40 years ago – O.K. maybe 50 – the standards of society were vastly different.  JFK could have affairs and, at the time, no one was the wiser (other than his inner circle).  Now, everything is recorded and one false move and you’re toast in the media.

STOP…but I know, the issue isn’t the tickets, it is what he said about them.  He lied, so says the investigative panel.

At a minimum, portions of Mr. Paterson’s testimony “were inaccurate and misleading,” the report concluded, and “warrants consideration of possible criminal charges by the District Attorney, who will make the ultimate decision regarding whether or not charges should be brought.”

So, what was the ethical thing to do?

ANSWER ONE:  Don’t take the tickets unless the Governor could buy them just like “Joe Q Public” – Rank does not have it’s privilege.

ANSWER TWO:  Use your position as Governor to get the tickets (after all you are the Governor and rank does have it’s privilege), but pay the fair market price for them.

ANSWER THREE:  When asked about the purchase of the tickets (now here’s where it get’s dicey), tell the truth and state that you did not pay for them, but would recognizing that it looked bad to use “free” tickets to see the World Series

ANSWER FOUR:  When asked, bumble the question, state a half-truth and get your butt busted by all major media outlets.

CONCLUSION: Answer Four – is the worst of the options and shows that the Governor (as an elected politician of power) is human and subject to mistakes.  However, the unfortunate thing is – our standard of ethics and ethical behavior has swung so far to one side that we believe that privilege should provide no benefit.

Does that cause you to ponder the ethics of privilege?  One thing that stands out for me is – the truth will set you free.  Some folks don’t like the truth and others are afraid of it, but if Governor Patterson had told the truth, the outcome would likely be vastly different.


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