Today’s Daily Mail article on the ongoing ethical issues at the local chamber of commerce does not serve readers well. Kyle Adams may turn out to be a decent reporter, but today’s story bears the heavy hand of his paper’s repressive management—the same management castigated by no less an authority than the Columbia Journalism Review for the exodus of several young reporters recently.
This story is a whitewash. It trivializes ethical violations serious enough to warrant the chamber executive director’s resignation, and casts them in a neutral he-said, she-said light to indicate this is merely an internal flap, and therefore much ado about nothing. My wife, the executive director who resigned, is inaccurately painted as a disgruntled employee. Her antagonist, Kathleen McQuaid, the chamber board of directors chairperson and a person in serious conflict with the chamber’s own ethical guidelines, is allowed to sum up the article by stating, outrageously, that “everything is as it should be”.
The Daily Mail: covering up problems, preserving the status quo.
Everything is NOT as it should be. What part of “ethics violation” does the reporter—or the chamber’s chairperson—not understand?
The chamber has both Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest Disclosure documents that board members are supposed to sign. The Code of Ethics document should be self-explanatory, but apparently is not. It outlines examples of what would constitute ethical violations, including “self interests relating to financial gains” and “bias relating to personal associates,” among many others. McQuaid and vice chair Tom Fucito are in violation on both counts—both bill the chamber for their professional services, and both were instrumental in the disastrous hiring of the barely there employee Doug Calkins, an associate of Fucito’s.
Yet McQuaid says she signed the Conflict of Interest Disclosure form, so everything is OK. The board approved her ethics violations, in other words. Were the jobs that McQuaid’s firm performed for the chamber put out for bid? No, she admits, stating that such work “does not necessarily have to be.” But what is the alternative to putting such work out for competitive bidding? Simple: the board member (McQuaid) will simply perform the work herself and bill for it. See above re, Code of Ethics & self interests relating to financial gains. This is not rocket science, folks.
Oh, and McQuaid goes on to note that she would just love to "donate" all her work to the chamber, but she is not a wealthy person. How altruistic of her.
Among the many, many other things wrong with this story:
- Was it ever determined whether or not McQuaid signed the chamber’s Code of Ethics? It doesn’t make a lot of difference at this point, but it would be interesting (and relevant) to know.
- How is it that vice chair Tom Fucito’s billing of the chamber was left out of the story? He, like McQuaid, has drawn money out of the chamber for services rendered—accounting services, in his case.
- Why did the story not note that both McQuaid and Fucito plan to continue on the board (and, one assumes, plan to continue billing the chamber)?
- Why did the story not mention that a new chairperson is scheduled to take office soon, and that this person comes with a built-in conflict of interest? I am referring to Karl Heck, a Greene County employee who administers a number of grant programs. Some of these programs are directly relevant to the chamber’s small-business membership. At least one concerned citizen (not me, and not my wife) has written to Greene County Administrator Shaun S. Groden expressing concern about this arrangement.
Adams did contact Groden, who was completely noncommittal and gave no indication he plans to do anything about the situation. Nevertheless, Adams should have noted the fact in his story. Feel free to drop Groden a line; his email address is linked above. Or, you could email the county’s Board of Ethics at firstname.lastname@example.org, though I can’t guarantee you’ll receive a response.
The Daily Mail had a chance to do something constructive here: a pretty straightforward set of ethical problems could have been highlighted, the better to resolve them in service to the community at large. Instead, the paper deliberately misconstrued the situation and closed with an outrageously misleading “everything is as it should be” summary, in a story with many glaring omissions. It’s yet another example of preserving the status quo at all costs.
The reading public deserves far better.