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Wednesday, March 8, 2023

How Does This Look to You?

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety

The way something “looks” matters more and more these days. Maybe more than ever before.

I mean, folks are so busy focusing on how everything “appears” to others, whether it’s their career, their family, etc., that the substance of who they actually are, who they are choosing to be, how they actually live out their lives, etc. bears little resemblance to what it all “appears” to be.

Mere “appearances” can fool and deceive us. Professional magicians understand this all too well, right?

And while fooling people into accepting an “illusion” might be wonderfully entertaining for a magic show or even for the latest Hollywood movie release, we shouldn’t expect – or tolerate – such attempts to fool us by our elected officials.

Instead, it should be the opposite. They should be concerned over how to avoid any appearance of impropriety – or any illusion whatsoever – when making decisions, or even having the impression that personal relationships, financial interests, etc. will have any influence over their official duties as public servants to “we, the people.”

So, when the Shreveport City Council recently (and hastily) hired a replacement for (the recently vacated) Clerk of Council position, and that new hire also happened to be the same one who was also at the center of arguably the biggest scandal of the last mayoral administration – the unlawful switching of the city’s insurance policies to the first cousin of Mayor Perkins’ campaign manager – it didn’t look too good.

And then when the Shreveport City Council also hired someone for their brand new director of council affairs position, who has numerous ethics violations and has been fined $7,500 by the Louisiana Ethics Adjudicatory Board, it didn’t look real good. When the person hired here is an old fraternity brother of the city councilman who concocted the director of council affairs position who campaigned to elect that city councilman, and who is chairman of the local Democratic party who endorsed that city councilman, it just doesn’t look good – especially when neither the applicant (who was hired) nor the city councilman himself disclosed such to the city council body, or to the public, at all.

But that’s what leaders do – or should do. Abraham Lincoln, for example, knew that if he was to maintain credibility in his personal and political life, he “must not only be chaste but above suspicion.” In the Bible, Saint Paul advises the Thessalonians to “[a]bstain from the appearance of evil.”

Whether it’s Abraham Lincoln or Saint Paul, though, they are both spot on because being a leader is more than just following the rules. Rules tell us merely what we are prohibited from doing and what we are required to do. Or put another way, just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should.

It doesn’t mean you should buy it because you can afford it. Just because you can eat whatever you want without gaining weight doesn’t mean you should. And just because you can hire someone who has ethics violations or has been at the center of the previous administration’s missteps doesn’t mean you should.

And yes, the mere appearance of impropriety in office does not necessarily mean anything improper occurs. Most elected officials, though, would want to avoid the appearance of impropriety to maintain public approval and trust.

After all, it takes skill and good judgment to recognize a conflict of interest, as personal interests can cloud one’s judgment. So the question is, do most of those of the city councilmembers lack the skill and good judgment to see the conflicts of interest in their decision, or do they simply not care how any of this looks to you?

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 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.


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