The Grantville ethics panel made up of citizens appointed by the city council has had a chance to consider complaints lodged against Councilman Mark King, and it concluded they were baseless. So, with that out of the way, the council can return to constructive work.
Hopefully, though, King and other politicians will learn something from the episode.
The complaint alleged King violated the ethics of his office in pointing his finger, approaching a constituent and calling that person an idiot. There were also accusations of impolite word choice on social media.
The initial job of the ethics panel wasn’t to determine the facts of the allegation but whether they would constitute an ethics violation if they were found to be true. King admits flinging the “idiot” label. After reviewing the complaint and getting advice from the city attorney, the panel voted unanimously that the claims didn’t rise to the level of an ethics conflict.
It was the right decision. Name calling and finger pointing are childish and tacky, but they’re not unethical.
However, King did stray from the bounds of ethical behavior when he initially refused to name his two appointees to the pool of citizens to serve on the ethics panel, thereby halting the process to consider the complaints against him. Fortunately, he came around and made his appointments, although they shouldn’t have been selected to consider a complaint against him anyway.
The greater lesson in all of this for King and for others is to be a little nicer. Most politicians understand that they can’t get elected or re-elected by being too much of a jerk, but King was appointed to fill an unexpired term and hasn’t yet faced the voters. Still, his instinct should have been to control his temper and moderate his remarks.
In the current political environment, civility is too often lacking. Its absence not only harms political careers but also community progress. Smart leaders recognize that governing takes coalitions and that the coalition centered around one issue is going to be different from the coalition needed to enact another issue. That means a leader has to keep finding new allies for each project, the people whose interests align around that unique goal.
But if you insult your opponents on the first issue, don’t expect them to support you on the second one when the new coalition is needed.
It’s not just the timid ideologues afraid of getting their feelings hurt who recognize the benefits of courtesy and guarded language. It’s also the hardboiled pragmatists who want to get something done.