EDITORIAL: Lake County needs to join era of ethics

2014-04-16T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Lake County needs to join era of ethics nwitimes.com
April 16, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Lake County government is now alone in declining to pay for ethics training for employees. That's shameful. Porter and LaPorte counties have already committed to joining the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission.

At the commission's invitation, a majority of Lake County Council members signed a pledge presented to all Northwest Indiana candidates for municipal and county offices.

"If elected to the office I seek, I commit myself to being an advocate for ethical practices within my realm of responsibility," the 2014 candidate ethics action pledge says.

The pledge further commits the candidate to making formal training available to employees, adopting an ethics code and protecting whistleblowers.

That ought to be an easy pledge, especially after dozens of area public officials have been prosecuted on public corruption charges.

FBI raids in Porter County and Calumet Township offices add to the urgency to sign this pledge.

At least five of the Lake County Council members — Ted Bilski, D-Hobart; Dan Dernulc, R-Highland; David Hamm; D-Hammond; Jerome Prince, D-Gary; and Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point — have signed the pledge. Prince is seeking the county assessor position but sits on the council now.

Yet every time Shared Ethics Advisory Commission President Calvin Bellamy has asked the County Council to appropriate money for the commission to pay for training, he has come away empty-handed.

Lake County citizens and taxpayers should be furious.

How can public trust in county government — which is already at a low level — be rebuilt when the County Council refuses to pay a paltry sum for ethics training?

The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission has no paid staff and no office to maintain. All the dues go toward training materials.

The $5,000 entry fee and an even lower annual fee are a bargain in a county where there have been many ethical lapses — and not just the criminal ones that have led to high-profile prosecutions.

Officials note that Lake County offers in-house ethics training, provided by a consultant, but joining the ethics commission and fully participating would send a stronger signal of the commitment to ethical behavior in county government.

Hamm said he would like joining the commission to be considered by the council "And I'll carry the matter," he said.

Councilmen who signed that pledge should support Hamm on this. Lake County residents should demand it.

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