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RICH JAMES: Comments water down yes vote on ethics

RICH JAMES: Comments water down yes vote on ethics

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When Lake County councilmen voted a couple weeks back to join the region’s Shared Ethics Advisory Commission, you had the feeling that some of them had their fingers crossed behind their backs.

It was a matter of voting yes without really meaning it.

Only in Lake County can some elected officials mess up while purportedly trying to do the right thing.

Yet, after years of saying Lake County government officials and their employees don’t need outside ethics training, the council voted to join the commission.

But two of them went kicking and screaming before casting affirmative votes.

The council, with two of its members absent, voted 5-0 to adopt the Code of Shared Ethics and Values, sign an interlocal agreement to join the nonprofit organization, and welcome an ethics trainer to instruct elected officials and county government employees.

Before voting to join, Councilpersons Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, and Eldon Strong, R- Crown Point, had harsh words for the Ethics Commission. And yes, it should be noted that one’s a Democrat and the other a Republican.

“I have a problem with this code, this organization, this commission …” Cid said in reference to the commission potentially releasing names of candidates who refuse to sign ethics pledges.

“It gives the perception that you aren’t ethical, that you are not trustworthy, that you don’t have integrity, but I do,” she added.

Whoever thought signing a pledge to be ethical could be so tenuous?

It should be noted the commission releases only the names of candidates who sign pledges.

And then there is Strong, who one would think would have a great appreciation for ethics training because he was a career police officer.

“There is no amount of ethics training that will teach us to do the right thing. This won’t fix things,” Strong said.

Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, disagreed, saying, “I think there are always things we can learn.”

And Councilman Jamal Washington, D-Gary, added that ethics training is needed if Lake County is to overcome its reputation as a breeding ground for unethical behavior in the public sector.

Washington is right, and that’s a primary reason why the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission was launched.

So what’s the big deal with Cid and Strong bad-mouthing the very organization they voted to join?

Well, someone much wiser than I had the answer to that question.

Ethics trainers could face a tough time with some government employees who know that two elected officials had nothing good to say about the very training they have been ordered to take.

And, therein lies part of the problem in Lake County.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjamescolumns@gmail.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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