Government ethics rules are poorly implemented
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- August 6, 2009 8:24 pm at 8:24 pm #77455
I am a low level government employee. A few months ago, I was the first customer at the new downtown Dunkin’ Donuts. They asked for my name and address and I foolishly gave them one of my state business cards.
Today, I got a letter in the mail from the president of the company that included a $100 gift card. I asked the administrator in charge of my office; he checked with the ethics guru for the department. I got an email a little while later telling me that I had to send the gift card back.
The irony is, the administrator first asked me if one of the other lawyers (the top legal advisor) was in his office…he wasn’t I later checked with that advisor and HE said that I should be able to keep the card. But it was too late; I already had an order from someone in the chain of command above me to send the card back.
This is silly. I did not get the card because I was a state employee. The governor is trying to protect himself by enacting harsh “ethics” rules. Of course, he is also out there soliciting contributions to political campaigns (his and those of other candidates). Don’t you think those contributions are going to have an effect on his judgment? I wonder why he was so forceful on pushing through the video slot machines…is it reasonable to assume that he owed someone a favor?
Yet little state employees like us get crushed. I can understand the reason for simple rules like this…they are easy to enforce. But in this case, there really is not a problem with low level employees receiving gifts. The problem is with high level people getting gifts or favors….they still do.August 6, 2009 8:55 pm at 8:55 pm #293367
You must have a huge doughnut and coffee craving to be this mad, LOL. but that’s the rules we have to follow. Maybe the state thinks you are in charge of the state doughnut vendors for it’s cafeterias or meetings. But yeah, no gifts over $20. I would ask your office ethics officer, typically from HR.August 6, 2009 8:58 pm at 8:58 pm #293368
I guess you wouldn’t be able to drop your card off at Potbelly either. I think they raffle off a lunch or something.August 6, 2009 9:12 pm at 9:12 pm #293369
i thought a lot of these rules came in the wake of the Tom Noe rare coins/beanie babies investment scandal. at least that’s when i recall things getting very Office Space like.
also, I’d recommend Kinko’s or a machine at the mall for your own personal business cards.August 6, 2009 9:19 pm at 9:19 pm #293370
There were a couple of ethics related happenings during the Taft administration that brought on the new ethics trainings and policy signings, unclaimed golf outings come to mind. I see it as the State covering their ass so that nothing can come back on them, which makes sense. Seems nowadays everyone ends up rolling over on everyone at one point or another.August 6, 2009 9:24 pm at 9:24 pm #293371
It might have been different if you had given your private information and NOT your business card.August 6, 2009 9:26 pm at 9:26 pm #293372
I sent the card back. Even though I could make an argument that it does not violate the rule, I received an order to send it back.
I think that there should be a presumption that gifts to someone at the deputy director level or higher is inappropriate and that a gift to someone below that level is appropriate. Of course, if someone who has business with me tries to give me a gift like that, the presumption would not apply.
The potential for ethics violations exists at all levels, but we are most concerned about ones at high levels. Allowing outsiders to buy lunch or minor gifts for low level people is not likely to cause a problem. And applying it something like the gift card, which was totally unrelated to my work, is absurd.August 6, 2009 9:27 pm at 9:27 pm #293373
Get your own carte de viste and throw those in..
I’d also agree that this is probably due more to the Tom Noe scandal than any other factor…
also remember that it’s generally better to beg forgiveness than ask permission…August 6, 2009 9:41 pm at 9:41 pm #293374
Yeah, I know. I can print out business cards on my computer. I should have. Silly me.August 6, 2009 9:43 pm at 9:43 pm #293375
I’m not sure I see the problem – a state employee can’t win a random prize drawing?August 6, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm #293376
It was not a random drawing. They sent the gift specifically to me because I was the first customer. It was not announced that they were going to give that kind of gift away (they DID announce that they were giving $5 gift cards to the first 200 customers…I got one of those…I still have not used it and I am NOT giving it back).
The manager took some photos as the doors first opened. Later on, he asked if I had a card so he could send me an email with the photos. When I got the email, it said that I would get a gift from the marketing department later on.August 6, 2009 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm #293377
That’s not something I think I would need to report. You weren’t there on official state business. You were there on your own time.August 6, 2009 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm #293378
This does sound really silly. They shouldn’t have taken your card away. Nonetheless, I can see this being written into an article for The Onion.August 7, 2009 12:42 am at 12:42 am #293379
I am a mid level manager in State Government. I had my ethics training and too many HR workshops to count.
This falls on a gray/grey line for state ethics. Technically you engaged in theft in office for using government property (your business card) to get a prize. The card has nominal value but technically it is state property.
A good manager would ask what the circumstances were for you winning the prize. In this case it was random, there would be no undue influence from Dunkin Donuts on your office by you winning the prize and you did not identify yourself as a state employee to try to influence winning the prize.
I would have let you keep the gift card and told you not to use your business card for raffles etc., in the future. I would have noted this in in my working file for you as an employee. I may have consulted with my HR manager and if they did not agree – we would have consulted with the Ohio Ethics Commission. I believe the outcome would have been the same – you keep the card.
If the outcome was otherwise and the Ethics Commission said it was a violation – I would have asked if I could then commandeer your gift card for the office and use it to buy food for the department and given you an oral warning not to use your cards for that purpose in the future. Another option would have been to have you donate the card to a food bank. Sending it back served no purpose to anyone.
I have encountered horrible ethics violations during my government service and have seen my superiors stand back and do nothing so this gift card thing is pretty lame.
If you had used a work computer to enter an online drawing would your boss have asked you to give that prize back too? As a state employee – you can use your computer for personal use during breaks and lunches. It gets complicated.
Your boss made too quick of a decision. I would have gone to bat for you but told you not to use your state issued business cards again – that simple and still ethical.
What a great way to frame people – take their cards and enter them in contests………..Genius!
CDS Sherman 2012 – ethical and PBR Drinker! Let’s see real change in state government.August 7, 2009 1:17 am at 1:17 am #293380
I work in the private sector and at my company we are absolutely forbidden from taking anything (including discounts) from any outsider at work. In addition, we can’t accept so much as a drink from anyone who works for a supplier, potential supplier, customer or potential customer, including on personal time. Is it overkill? Probably, but unlike others who have lost their jobs over free dinners or Buckeyes tickets, I stick to the rules that everyone from the top to the bottom must follow.
Working for the state, everyone is a potential customer or supplier, so I don’t see why ethics rules wouldn’t apply, even if you unwittingly revealed the fact that you are a state employee. Although very, very unlikely It would be very easy for someone to claim that they chose to award a prize to the first person in line because they were a state employee. Sharing the card by buying food for the whole office is even worse than you keeping it as it compromises the ethical image of the whole group.
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