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Get serious on ethics violations

August 7, 2012
Salem News

Many public officials caught in wrongdoing maintain they just didn't know what they did crossed legal and/or ethical lines. It just won't wash, especially because the defense often comes from people who seldom stop touting their own intellects and experience.

It certainly won't work for Stan Heffner, who has resigned his position as state superintendent of schools in Ohio.

Heffner quit after state Inspector General Randy Meyer released results of an investigation into the superintendent's actions last year and this one. During that relatively short amount of time, Heffner allegedly was guilty of multiple breaches of ethical standards and, perhaps, the law.

For a few months, Heffner served as interim state superintendent of schools. While in that position in 2011, he lobbied members of the General Assembly on legislation that would have helped a standardized testing company in Texas. That occurred after Heffner had accepted a job with the firm - a blatant conflict of interest. Later, Heffner changed his mind and declined the Texas position in favor of accepting the permanent appointment as state superintendent.

In addition, Heffner used his state-issued cellular telephone and email to get the testing service job. Then, he instructed assistants at the state Department of Education to handle personal affairs - including plans to move to Texas - for him.

The Franklin County prosecuting attorney's office has said it is looking into whether criminal charges should be filed against Heffner, who admits only "mistakes."

Meanwhile, a few legislators are questioning a state Department of Education culture that allowed behavior such as Heffner's.

That is not difficult to understand. Heffner was the boss, after all, and in a way he made the rules. In addition, he and others were aware that public officials caught in such wrongdoing seldom are punished severely.

That is a recipe for abuses in government, of course, and the situation needs to be changed. If it is determined Heffner understood his actions were wrong - and it is difficult to believe he did not - he should be penalized harshly as a deterrent against such offenses by others in state government.

 
 

 

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