EDITORIAL: Council shows us again that what is ‘legal’ is more important than what is ‘right’

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The discussion Monday of an ethics complaint filed against Council member Kathy Canady felt more like a lesson in locating loopholes and interpreting fine print than a real effort to consider what’s right and wrong.

There was little real consideration given to the complaint, as the few questions asked focused on whether it was really wrong to declare a homestead in one place and live in another, whether it was truly against City Code for Canady to live in her business, and ultimately what real responsibility the Council had in the matter.

Apparently there was no responsibility to bother with ethics.

The big crescendo came when Mayor Pro Tem Liz Rundzieher announced she had heard nothing of importance.

“So I’ll make a motion that we do nothing with this,” she said.

The Council had two choices. One was to do nothing. Check. The other was to vote to hold a hearing and hear the evidence on both sides of the issue to determine if something unethical had been done. That option would have taken a little more effort, transparency, and a willingness to promote accountability to the public.

Credit might have been due for the Council hearing the complaint at all, but they had no choice according to the local ethics ordinance. So they suffered through it and asked questions focused on poking holes in the complaint rather than considering its validity.

What is legal, or not quite illegal – those things that bend the rules but don’t break them – continue to cast a long shadow over what is truly the right or wrong thing to do. That’s this Council’s Achille’s Heal. It wants to do what it wants to do and it doesn’t want to be questioned.

At one point the implication was it all didn’t really matter because, well, Canady had been here forever. She even snapped at complainant Sally McFeron that she doesn’t know because “She’s not from here.”

By all means, lifetime passes should be granted to bend the rules based on how long someone’s been in the community, right?

Did we forget that all this was in defense of an appointed Council member, that is about to get a monthly $1,000 salary and may get an extended three-year term – both things she voted in favor of – while not living in a residence according to City code?

Should the community reward people who don’t play by the same rules they expect us to abide by?

One question Monday focused on how any of the complaint impacted Canady’s duties as a Council member. That was strictly interpreted as though the question was “did it keep her from attending a meeting?”

One could also argue it impacts her duties as a Council member because she is not following the same rules she is charged with making judgments on for others. But maybe not.

It is not as though ethics and breaking or bending rules has never mattered to this Council. As recently as March, the Council used a clause from former police chief Maverick Campbell’s contract as sufficient reason to terminate him, specifically Section 13, which said: “willful misconduct, gross negligence, dishonest or fraudulent conduct, or such other acts in bad faith which result in injury to employer.”

This came even though no laws were broken in the incident cited as cause for termination. He just did something he shouldn’t have done, that reflected badly on the City.

But surely this is different, right?

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