The Right Thing To Do
But is it the proper thing?
Being a leader is more than just following the rules. Rules tell us merely what we are prohibited from doing, and only the minimum of what we are required to do instead. Or put another way, just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should.
Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should buy it. Just because you can eat whatever you want without gaining weight doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can skip that workout, or have just one more drink, or bail out of a commitment, doesn’t mean that you should.
Some say this is the difference between what you may have a right to do and what is the right thing to do. Shreveport Police Chief Alan Crump, for example, had a right to take medical leave from his position only days after the primary election on Nov. 6 and mere weeks before a new mayor (or the newly reelected mayor) most certainly would have replaced him. But, was it the right thing to do, considering how the timing of it all appeared to be politically motivated and self-serving, all while raising doubts about any real transparency in city government?
So, instead of resigning (as he originally told Mayor Tyler he would), the residents of Shreveport will now pay him to serve as our police chief – even though he won’t be (he’ll be on medical leave) – and we’ll be paying an extra police chief’s salary to someone else altogether (for at least one more year).
This election season has been chock-full of similar situations where candidates and city leaders alike chose between what they had a right to do and what was the right thing to do. Shreveport City Councilman Willie Bradford, for example, had a right to say at a political rally, “We cannot keep electing our housewives,” when referring to city council candidate (and housewife) Wendy Vance. But was that the right thing to do?
Mayoral candidate Adrian Perkins has the right not to provide more of an explanation of why he had never voted in any election before Nov. 6 (including the election that was held just two days after he announced he was running for mayor). He certainly has the right not to provide more details about his military service, or explain why he bought a home in Savannah, Ga, when he said he always planned to come home to Shreveport. But is that the right thing to do, when Shreveport voters are already so jaded and distrustful of government in the first place?
You see, whether it’s the police chief, an elected official or a candidate for public office, leaders should do more than just what they have a “right” to do. Within reason, and when questioned, our leaders can’t just say, “I have a right to do X, Y or Z and don’t have to answer that question” or to otherwise parse their response with what seems like only half the story. Why not just answer the real question: “Is what you’re doing the right thing?” Is what you’re doing restoring trust in city government and in you? Or is it fueling more suspicion of both? Is this more about you than us?
This is important because no one – from the mayor to city council to school board – can effectively lead a team that doesn’t trust them, whether because of outright deceit or half-baked lies of omission. After all, as Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Half the truth is often a great lie.”
And when we hear supporters of candidates talk about “integrity,” or write letters to the editor about their candidate’s transparency and forthrightness, it must be more than just rhetoric because they know that’s what the voters want to hear – it ought to be because they understand “why” those values are important in the first place.
Maybe it’s like Louisiana Gov. Earl Long once prophesied: “Someday, Louisiana is gonna get good government, and they ain’t gonna like it.” At this point, I’d settle for just trusting it.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.