All's Well

Right vs. wrong is a murky issue for the public sector

We once heard a boxing commentator suggest doing away with fight judges and replacing them with 10-year-old boys. Where a panel of adults can watch two guys slug it out for 12 rounds and still not agree who won, your basic fourth-grader--having presumably more firsthand experience with the action--tends to be more concise: "That guy won. Can we go get pizza now?"

Buzz mentions this because we think a bunch of 10-year-olds would make swell additions to the city's ethics commission. Maybe put some on juries or appeals courts, too, at least in political cases, since adults lately seem to lack clarity on issues of right and wrong.

Take Plan Commissioner David Spence, for instance, who is still complaining that the ethics commission didn't get it quite right earlier this month when it voted to reprimand him for improperly using his city title to acquire from the state confidential information about an Oak Cliff restaurateur's liquor license application ("Test Case," September 12).

"The hearing was a bit scary," Spence wrote in an e-mail addressed to "dear friends" (Buzz wasn't on the recipient list). "...I think mine was about the first real hearing they had held, and the presentations by some of my accusers were allowed to be vicious and interminable. The commissioners seemed to have only a vague understanding of how the ethics codes says to conduct a hearing and to apply the law. I wonder if city council know they just created yet another tool for political attacks. I know the media reporters there were thrilled with the new venue."

Got it? Blame the commission. Blame your accusers. Blame politics. Blame the media. Of course, blame the media. Muddy the waters.

It's vaguely, creepily similar to all the crowing about vindication that came from former city council member Al Lipscomb's corner when an appeals court overturned his bribery conviction on a technicality.

Personal responsibility, anyone? Owning up to your mistakes? Al, you took dough on the sly, remember? People who are only technically innocent shouldn't claim vindication any more than people who are only "technically" virgins should demand to wear a white wedding dress. And using your city title to nose into someone's private business? Listen, Mr. Plan Commissioner, a 10-year-old could tell you that's not proper, and besides, it gives the media the fantods. (It's odd: In real life, it's almost never hard to tell right from wrong. In public life, you need juries and commissions.)

To his credit, Spence at least is concerned enough with his reputation to care that he may get a letter of reprimand if the city council signs off on the commission's decision. Kind of a wussy punishment, if you ask Buzz, like all those threats about our "permanent record" when we were bad in grade school. Still, it's good to see Spence take it seriously. Plus, we hear that he not only showed up recently at restaurateur Robert Ramirez's Twilight Restaurant and Club, he also sent Ramirez flowers.

The 10-year-old boy in us is making faces, but the grown-up says that's a classy move.

 
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