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Her Honor

Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.

The following postings have been filtered by tag quid pro quo. clear filter
  •  Friendly Advice Or Quid Pro Quo?

    Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011

    This case is one of  a series written to illustrate ethical dilemmas that occur in public service. Please share your comments or questions by posting to this site.

    After working five years at the plan-checking counter at Robinsdale city hall, Gary Hess was looking forward to submitting his resume for the vacancy as assistant planning director. His interactions with the customers coming to have their building permits and architectural plans approved had been challenging in the beginning, but he felt he had “done his time” and had enough experience to warrant the promotion.

    The city manager decided to hold an open recruitment for the position. Succession planning was one of her priorities. There were going to be several retirements in the Planning and Inspection Department, so she was looking for someone with management potential. To his great disappointment Gary was passed over, and the job went to Wendy Boone, a planning assistant from a neighboring city. When he asked the city manager why he was not chosen, she replied, “Your time will come. Right now I need strong leadership.”

    While he was driving home that evening Gary was increasingly angry over the hiring decision. Not only would he be “stuck” working with the public at the counter, he had missed an opportunity for a more prestigious title and a substantial pay increase he had been counting on. Rather than stay mad, he decided to find a way to make the most of his situation.

    The city had compiled a list of approved, licensed contractors that was available at the counter. This list did not imply a recommendation – it was meant to help residents, architects, and builders by listing those companies with a city as well as state license.

    Gary began contacting companies on the list, suggesting that because he “admired their work” he would be willing to make a specific recommendation to people who came to the counter. Although he did not ask outright for anything in return, two of the companies promised a financial “bonus” for each contract that came through his recommendation. A third company offered use of a mountain cabin so that Gary and his family could take occasional weekends off to ski.

    At first Gary was selective in making these “transactions,” but after six months his kickbacks seemed to be going undetected, and he became bolder. He bought a new car and began bragging about his “weekend at the chalet.”

    In her six-month review of department operations—an audit of all activities—Wendy noticed the unusual number of contracts that were going to just three of the two dozen names of the list. When she questioned Gary, he denied any wrongdoing, and insisted that the three companies on the list were, in his opinion, superior. Further, there were no written rules prohibiting making personal recommendations.

    Questions for discussion:

    • Is it unethical for a city employee to make recommendations based on his or her experience?
    • Would Gary’s actions have been acceptable if he had not engaged in a quid pro quo?
    • What action should Wendy take with Gary? With other department employees?
    • Is there anything the city manager might do to prohibit this type of behavior?

    Wht do you think? 

  •  When Networking Looks Like Quid Pro Quo

    Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011


    Setting up a senior center in your council district is good for the community and the councilmember. In San Antonio, Councilman Ray Lopez thought it might also be of personal benefit.
    The legislator met with representatives of WellMed, a company that operates 23 clinics in the Texas city. In a follow-up email with the company vice president, Lopez mentioned he had a consulting group with experience in IT support, and requested a meeting to discuss how he could provide services to WellMed.
    This kind of “networking” may be common practice in the private sector, but the city’s ethics code prohibits officials from “soliciting outside employment that could be expected to impair independence of judgment.”  The code makes no reference to the difference between seeking employment and being hired.
    After a discussion of his qualifications, Lopez was asked to intervene on behalf of WellMed to secure a special program from the AT&T Foundation. He contacted the former mayor, a current executive with AT&T. “I thought it was a great service. It’s almost an expected engagement from somebody in public office to try to do outreach and facilitate partnerships where they can happen,” says Lopez.
    Ultimately the contract went to WellMed, although they were already under a cloud in the wake of the resignation of another member of the council, Jennifer Ramos, who resigned from a job with WellMed’s charitable arm. Lopez did not end up working for the company.
    These types of relationships raise serious concerns about fairness and integrity. Lopez, admitting the lucrative contract is a good deal for WellMed, said “They’ve pretty well cracked the nut.”


  •  It May Be Legal But Is It Ethical?

    Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011


    “I did it for the community, and I think we will be better off because of it.”
    Terry Lee, former Pierce County councilman agrees that his decision to serve in his elected position while also holding a paid job for a park district in Washington State may look “suspect.” In fact, the board that hired him loosened its prior requirements for qualifications and ultimately selected Lee without interviewing other finalists.
    But Lee defends his actions by saying they were not illegal, while acknowledging he started his final push for the county to transfer parklands while he was also negotiating to be the new executive director. Both he and the board insist there was no “quid pro quo” and no ethics complaint has been filed. But the situation leading up to his hiring calls into question the ethical decision-making process for both parties.
    The story ran in The News Tribune, a local newspaper that reviewed public records and other documents, including an email from a former campaign adviser warning Lee about the appearance of a conflict. The facts make a perfect case study for anyone interested in learning about ethical dilemmas in government.


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