No ethical dilemmas here

The Macomb County Board of Commissioners performed a nifty little charade last week when it enacted new guidelines introduced by Ethics Committee Chairman William Crouchman (D-St. Clair Shores). The measure includes rules regarding what items can be accepted as gifts by board members, what actions constitute conflicts of interest, and rules of general behavior. This replaces the old policy, a one-page, one-size-fits-all piece of boilerplate written by the National Association of Counties and adopted by Macomb in 1997.

So, what's there for us to gripe about? Call it the marshmallow factor. What the new measure doesn't include is any punishment for violators. Or, as Commissioner Peter Lund (R-northern Shelby Township) succinctly put it, "There is no mechanism to enforce this at all. It's laughable."

Apparently, if there's one thing the Macomb board likes, it's a good laugh. The policy was approved 24-1.

The board "touts this new ethics committee, but it has no purpose," Commissioner Ed Szczepanski tells News Hits. "The hypocrisy is what bugs me. When it comes to ethical lapses by county employees, we have our fingers on their jobs. But when it comes to us, we don't have any standards."

Szczepanski tried to include an amendment that would have added penalties. It was defeated 18-7.

"You can't mandate ethics," Commissioner Nicholyn Brandenberg (R-Macomb Township) argued. "If we need a policy that says we're ethical, we shouldn't be here."

Our mind boggles at the illogic of that position. Of course penalties can't make a politician act ethically. Nothing can. But the same can be said for society in general, which can't make people abide by the law. Does that mean we should do away with prisons? What penalties can do is increase the possibility that a pol will stay on the straight and narrow. If not, the cost of misdeeds is clearly specified.

But the way Brandenberg and other like-minded commissioners see it, Macomb County voters can provide all the ethical enforcement needed come election time.

So there you go. Get out your notebooks and start keeping a tally. To get things rolling, we offer this little item that we're not quite sure how to score: As The Macomb Daily reported last month, Board Chairwoman Nancy White (D-Clinton Township) was seen at the North American International Auto Show charity preview with her husband, having received tickets worth $400 as gifts from unidentified donors. This would have violate the new policy, which requires disclosure of gifts worth more than $50.

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