By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Over the months and years within tribal government and the Cherokee community, there has been much discussion concerning the conduct of elected officials. Our executive office holders, tribal council and school board members are human, with human frailties, like the rest of us. By and large, we would all agree on certain ethical standards. But, just as people vary in opinion on many issues, tribal members have their own take on what constitutes ethical behavior.
Perception is very important when creating policy. As we have seen in the recent political races, different individuals and groups have dramatically different perceptions of certain situations. Many times, a person’s perception is presented as universal fact, when it is, in actuality, a situational truth at best. A situational truth is one that comes from the circumstances one finds themselves in at a particular time.
Certainly, everyone is entitled their opinions. We dedicate a section of the paper entirely to the expression of opinion (this letter is one). We clearly identify the section as editorial and opinion because the metric for fact is essentially suspended on those pages so that people are free to express their perception of situations in instances where the truth depends on conditions and not necessarily fact.
We are guided in our coverage of news and expression of fact by a journalistic code of ethics. It doesn’t lay out what news we cover, but how we cover it. The four tenants listed in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics are to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and to be accountable and transparent. We do our best to live up to those ethical responsibilities. Do we always measure up? That is a matter of opinion.
The ethics policy for elected officials will necessarily put restrictions on certain types of behavior. A procedure must be identified for addressing suspected unethical behavior. An enforceable ethics policy will require that consequences or penalties be established for behavior which is not in-line with the policy.
Allowing elected officials to establish their own ethics policy should be viewed by the community as a conflict of interest. While their intent may be just and appropriate, the community will have the perception that the policy is skewed to the elected officials’ behavior, whether that behavior is moral or not.
Webster’s Dictionary defines ethics as “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior”. When we vote in our leadership, we have an idea of the type of behavior we wish to receive from them. The ethics policy should be a mandate to ensure that the people get what they voted for.
As public servants of the Cherokee people, our elected officials should encourage that the committee charged with drafting the ethics policy hold public hearings to allow the community to have input into the creation of the policy. Drafts should be publicized with contact information for the committee so that the widest possible net may be cast to get enrolled members’ thoughts on what should be included in the policy. And, the policy should be brought into law by a vote of the people.
It is important that we get the ethics policy right. The policy can be a platform from which the governance of the tribe will have guidelines to follow for positive change and recourse in place to correct a negative direction.