Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ethics in Local Government

I went to a panel discussion last night on ethics in local government. The panel included SJSU professor Lawrence Quill, Councilman Ken Yeager, City Manager Les White, the Survey & Policy Research Institute's Phil Trounstine (a former Mercury News reporter), and lobbyist Dustin DeRollo and was held in the City Council Chambers at the new City Hall. It was really interesting to hear each of their insights and comments on ethics.

Ethics is one of those subjects that is usually only talked about when there is a problem, and there have been plenty of problems in San Jose. The lobbyist especially was critical of the Mercury News for their attacks on lobbying in city government.

"In San Jose," DeRollo said, "the lobbyist has been the whipping boy for everything that has gone wrong in city government."

The Merc has been leading the call for change in city government, and we do often focus on the bad and forget that San Jose is actually not too bad of a place to live. Trounstine pointed out that for journalists, bad news is good news. But bringing down politicians is not the purpose of journalism.

"What makes great journalism is hard-headed reporting," he said, "Not hard-headedness."

Journalists, he explained have to maintain the Jeffersonian ideal that if people have all of the information, they will make the right choices. That means that our job as journalists is to get the people all of the information they need, even if we do not agree with it, or think that it is going to help the causes we like.

It is often hard to determine what is right and what is wrong, the panel concluded. But, as Trounstine voiced, there are two types of politicians: "those that want to do good and those that want to do well." Most politicians really want to do good. They seek to improve the communities they serve, and most of them do their best.

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1 comment:

Irving said...

Awesome!