Thursday, January 08, 2009

Read The Headlines

I have written here a bit about my 8 year stint in state government. But with the political news of late being dominated by tales of venality and corruption, I am reminded of the little bit of advice I would give people who asked about being in government.

The short version of advice is: READ THE HEADLINES.

The long version really isn't much more complicated--whatever the action, the behavior--I would advise my immediate subordinates--read the headlines. Take whatever it is you are planning to do (or not do) and then write an article, mentally--of course--and write the headline. Then read it. Do you like what it says? Would you be proud to have that headline splashed all over the front page? Yes? Fine. No? Then why do whatever.

So, Rod Blagojevich--you want to "sell" the Senate seat held by now President-elect Obama? Write the headline. Do you like it? Then don't pursue your venal plan.

Bernie Madoff--planning to set up a Ponzi scheme and bilk thousands of people out of billions of dollars, and eventually cause the death of several people. Don't like the headlines? Then skip the phony money scheme.

Then there is the bizarre case of
Marc Dreier. He is a prominent NY attorney who tried to impersonate someone (while in Toronto) and then tried to sell phony bonds. I know. . .it is too bizarre. So read the headlines. Don't like the sound? Then skip all the craziness.

I had one other piece of advice to offer. Occasionally, someone would ask me what he or she needed to know before taking a position in state government. My answer? Decide in advance what issue you will fall on your sword for.

What do I mean by that? In state government, there are always pressures--I was a deputy secretary in our state health department. Under me was all quality assurance which included hospital and nursing home licensing, as well as approvals to open health facilities.

So, the governor's office might pressure me to speed up an approval. Or a legislator would tell a constituent that he, the legislator, could get those "do-nothings" in the health department to move things along. And then I would get a call. I would (gently) remind the legislator that the law prohibited such contacts while an application was pending, and did he want me to make a note of this ex parte contact? (The significance of that is that such contacts are discoverable were there ever to be a law suit.) Oh, no, no--the legislator would say--I am not trying to force you to do anything. Right.

So, early on, I decided what issue I could not engage in--had I been ordered to do so, I would have "fallen on my sword."

There you have it--my two pithy pieces of advice: read the headlines, then decide if your action would bear public scrutiny. And know what line you cannot and will not cross.


Anvilcloud said...

Two wonderful piece of advice. I really like the Read the Headlines idea.

NCmountainwoman said...

I agree wholeheartedly! We all need to look at our core values and make appropriate decisions.

Ruth said...

Unfortunately people think they can operate beneath the radar and avoid the public scrutiny.

JeanMac said...

Wise lady.

amarkonmywall said...

okay. I have a joke for you.
Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the Governor's Mansion in Springfield, Illinois; One from Chicago, another from Tennessee, & a third from Kentucky .
They all go with Blagojevich to examine the fence.
The Tennessee contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. "Well", he says, "I figure the job will run about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew and $100 profit for me."
The Kentucky contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, 'I can do this job for $700: $300 for materials, $300 for my crew and $100 profit for me.'
The Chicago contractor doesn't measure or figure, but leans over to Blagojevich and whispers, '$2,700.'
Blagojevich,incredulous, whispers back, 'You didn't even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?'
The Chicago contractor whispers back, '$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire that guy from Kentucky to fix the fence.'

Anonymous said...

It doesn't have to be the state government either. Pressure and bad decisions happen at all levels. This year, my beloved school (and I really do love the school where I work) has seen some poor choices happening at the district and even school level that I found really upsetting. I would like to have them think about that message too: Read the Headlines. Imagine what they would say if you did this . . . and then do the right thing. Sigh.

Dog_geek said...

A good piece of advice. Unfortunately, the people who most need to be "reading the headlines" are those who are least likely to be doing it or paying attention to how their actions affect others.

Climenheise said...

I remember a story (from New England?) about some university students who had a media assignment to "make a movie". Camcorder running, they kidnapped a female student (they were male) -- friend of theirs -- duct taped her, put her in the trunk of a car, drove to someplace or other, took her out and stopped the camcorder. Then they freed her and let her in on the story. Surprise!

Her surprise was to find that it was a class assignment. Their surprise was to be charged with kidnapping. "Read the headlines." I would feel more self-righteous if I didn't remember my own early 20s too clearly. Nothing so egregious as the above, but your suggestion is most helpful.

Laura said...

"Read the headlines." Sounds like sound advice for us all. As a teacher, my version would be "Listen to what my student tells his parents."