GUEST COMMENTARY: Ethics training pays off, but doesn't cost much

2013-03-03T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Ethics training pays off, but doesn't cost muchBy Calvin Bellamy
March 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

What has the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission done lately? Quite a lot but never enough. The commission is composed of seven member communities -- Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Highland, Munster, Schererville and Whiting. We are a nice mix of urban and suburban, large and small. We welcome all communities in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties to join in our work.

And what do we do? Our main activity is to provide municipal employees with training in ethical decision-making. Ethics is a learned skill that needs continuing reinforcement. Good intentions and common sense are starting points, but not enough. Life presents us with so many shades of gray.

Focused training is the best way to prepare municipal employees. The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission trains designated municipal employees who then train their co-workers using case study discussions. In addition to training the trainers, we provide training specifically tailored for department heads and volunteer members of municipal boards and commissions. These are our main activities.

We also host an annual breakfast to which we invite elected officials, business leaders and others active in the community. This year our Ethics in Government Breakfast will be on March 14 and will feature former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Are we making a difference? In 2009 and again late in 2012, the commission conducted an ethics survey of employees of our member communities. Last year’s poll produced 564 responses. Preliminary analysis shows a statistically significant difference in ethics awareness between those who were trained and those who were not. We believe these results validate the worth of our training.

Of course, ethics training is not going to make a hardened criminal into a model citizen, but we believe the vast majority of public employees are dedicated and want to do things the right way. By providing training, we reinforce their positive inclinations. At a minimum, our training removes the excuse, “No one ever told me this was wrong.”

Why aren't more communities members? The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission is a group of the willing. There is no way to compel membership. In fact, a community enjoys the maximum benefit only if that community’s leadership is fully committed to developing an ethics culture. We don’t want lukewarm members.

I have contacted every city and town in Lake County and two in Porter County. Those declining membership cite various reasons: This is not the right time. We can’t afford it. We’ll do it on our own. Our employees are already ethical. It’s just a matter of common sense and training isn't necessary.

Actually, the membership fees are modest -- very modest -- and 100 percent goes to training expenses. Everyone on the commission is a volunteer, and we have no employees. So far as common sense is concerned, our training helps people understand that common sense isn't all that common. Our goal is to give municipal employees the tools they need to work through situations they actually face.

When is the right time to join the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission? There’s no time like the present!

Calvin Bellamy is president of the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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