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Flying, tethers and golf, oh my: Part II

DETROIT – Ethical questions are always a grey area. Taking pens from the company storage closet and bringing them home could be theft, but probably isn't a big deal if you put that pen in your pocket and bring it back to work or use it on the job until it is either empty or lost.

But what about stashing that company stapler in your briefcase or handbag knowing full well it won't make it back to the office? We all know that's wrong.

Coming up with other grey ethical workplace areas is not difficult to find either. Let's say you are a government employee -- paid by the taxpayers. You are responsible for deciding which product your arm of government should use. You then get an invitation to speak at a forum of one of the vendors whose future sales depend upon your decision making. Sounds innocent enough: Sure, go on and give your little speech about the product to its sales force and while you are at it go take a tour of the vendor's manufacturing operation too!

But what if that vendor and or its local distributor chip in more than $1,000 to fly you cross country to a golf resort, wine you and dine you for three and a half days, then pay for your golf round in the company scramble?

What if, while puttering around on the golf course you also log that time on your timecard so you are getting paid by the taxpayers to slice into the rough? Is this ethical? That is the question Local 4 News asked of Wayne County Sheriff's Deputy Lt. Dennis Ramel when he took the exact trip we just described to the Inverness Golf Resort in Colorado at the end of May and the start of June earlier this year.

--Dennis Ramel

In the days after his return from his junket, Ramel's boss, Jariel Heard, approved of Ramel's trip and said it was entirely proper for Ramel get a close up look at a county vendor.

Some county commissioners were not so certain. So, they approached the legal beagles inside the county and the ethics commission. Inside the ethics ordinance, they found that this kind of trip is not usually considered ethical. But, there is an exception if you are going to give your little speech. If so, then you can take all the goodies the vendor decides to heap on you.

Turns out Ramel received a little award from the company after giving his hour-long speech on a Saturday Morning [when Ramel reported he was off the clock]. Remember that this is a company that must sell Ramel on the efficacy of its product in a contract that would net the company more than one hundred thousand dollars. The county's ordinance apparently does not see any concern about undue influence on a decision maker as long as he or she gives a speech.

Well, this is not adding up to a couple of Wayne County Commissioners Ray Basham, the chairman of the internal audit committee and Ilona Varga, former chair and current member of the audit committee.

It is their job in this capacity to take a much closer look at the gray areas of county government ethics.

They came away from our story shocked and concerned.

They have decided there was nothing ethical about Ramel's trip. Though the ethics ordinance may allow this kind of operation as currently worded, they intend to see to it that changes. They say work has already begun to create new clause in the ethics ordinance to forbid this kind of situation in the future. They both believe Ramel's trip is indicative of a larger problem with Wayne County's government… you know the one that's on the edge of financial insolvency. It may take time to get the votes, and they admit in fact, they may never get the votes on the county commission. But they believe this is a fight very much worth fighting. Or more clearly stated; a frustrating grey area needs much more clarity.


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