About "Integrity" - 07/14/12
At its core, integrity is simple honesty, applied consistently, in what we say and how we relate to other people. 1 An honest person tells the truth, keeps his promises, if he can, and does his best in the jobs he takes on. "Integrity calls us to be truthful, honest, and fair and to take responsibility for our actions and decisions." 2
Lying, or concealing or omitting relevant facts in making a decision, is not integrity. Denying a mistake or blaming others for one's own mistakes is not integrity. Taking credit for the work of others is not integrity. Gossip — especially which recklessly disregards the truth — is not integrity. Making promises one knows are likely impossible is not integrity. A public official's use of his position to gain an advantage for himself, a relative, a friend, a business associate, or a campaign contributor, or the use of inside information for personal profit, is not integrity and may be an ethical violation. 3
But it's also complicated. Who has not told a lie to spare a person's feelings — or for less noble causes? Who has not broken a promise upon which others have relied and thus has violated a trust or duty because it was inconvenient or "too hard" to keep? Who has not fallen short in his work simply because he is not motivated or because he believes others are not worthy of his best effort?
Integrity is not about the other guy. True integrity requires critical self-examination of one's own shortcomings. I wonder if our city commissioners ever watch the videos of commission meetings, not to see how well they did, but to see what other people see and how they might perceive the proceedings.
Public officials are specially entrusted with the governance and common assets of the city. Government which lacks integrity (even if we excuse occasional lapses) is corrupt government. Even the appearance of bias or the perception of "corrupt intent" can be destructive of the public trust — the moral imperative of the laws and ethical codes which govern the conduct of city officials.
A quiz. Some city commissioners concede that members of the public are free to criticize their official decisions and actions, excluding what is subjectively determined to be "personal and slanderous remarks," but this accord does not always seem to reach in both directions. The question: How does this rate on the integrity scale?
(Of course, if this is a question of decorum at public meetings, it would rationally reach in both directions.)
Some day it is my plan to write more about the conduct of public officials that falls outside the realm of criminal corruption or conflicts of interest, and about the City Hall environment which fosters bad conduct which is not specifically unlawful. The right conduct of public officials and public employees is not covered as much in the discussion of public ethics, perhaps because it is more abstract and not as easily proceduralized within the law.
Conclusion: There is no specific conclusion to be written here. The reader may infer what he wants from these comments.
1 The term integrity in ethics is derived from the Latin word integer, which means "the whole."
2 "Integrity," Earlham College Principles and Practices, 2012, earlham.edu.
3 Fla. Stat. § 112.313(6) provides in part, "No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others."