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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Setting the Stage for Problems

Roey Rahmil

Greg Houseman, a health inspector in San Tomas, had a reputation as a fair and thorough public servant. He was well-respected by his peers in government and by the restaurant industry he helped regulate. Greg was also active in the community, having directed the local community theater group’s annual play for 10 years running. This year, he was looking forward to putting on “Pirates of Penzance.”

To help raise money for sets and costumes, Greg organized fund-raising drives each year. Donors would be recognized in the show’s program, and could participate in the silent auction held before the play opened. Local businesspeople jumped at the opportunity to help out; it was great publicity, led to more customers, and often they had family or friends participating in the production.

Since his work brought him into contact with many local eateries, Greg didn’t hesitate to give them an opportunity to participate, if they so chose. Several of the restaurants in town contributed money towards the show and others donated gift certificates to the silent auction. Some didn’t, and Greg figured they had already given to other causes.

Shortly after the show concluded, Greg’s supervisor, Shelley Cartwright, received several anonymous complaints from people who owned local restaurants. They claimed that they were wary of not donating, fearing that it might lead to an unfavorable health inspection. “We felt intimidated and thought there was nothing else we could do but give money,” a complaint read.

Shelley asked Greg if he had put any pressure on businesses to contribute. Greg seemed shocked. He replied that he had just informed people of the opportunity and had not misused his position in any way. “This is ridiculous,” he asserted. “I try to help out and this is what I get.” Shelley believed that Greg was well-intentioned but was troubled by the situation.


Should Greg have asked local restaurants to donate to the show?

What should Shelley do to handle the situation?

Roey Rahmil was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.


Jun 1, 2007

Government Ethics Stories