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Ethics reform in leadership

By Jim Killebrew

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[March 07, 2014]  The leadership characteristics, both inherent and learned, by an individual are important markers that determine the kind of leadership a person practices. In our society it has been aptly demonstrated that many politicians don't give a whit about telling the truth. Lying is more the norm than the exception. The Illinois gubernatorial election this year should place the highest priority on ethics reform, given the circumstances of several governors leaving office. For almost as long as anyone can remember, politicians in Illinois have been branded with unethical conduct. Instead of ethical reform, however, the current slate of Republicans and the sitting Democrat are talking about everything but ethics reform.

We are hearing a lot about taxes and the economy. The minimum wage is occupying some talk-time in the debates. Everyone seems to have a plan for more funding in education, and funding for agriculture seems to be a very hot item in Illinois. Since the issue of concealed carry is looming across the land, there has been plenty of ink laid out for that issue. The legalization of marijuana, Illinois infrastructure, higher education, the use of incentives to lure businesses and industry into Illinois have raked in some media time, and of course, the ability to work on a bipartisan level by "crossing the aisle" is always an attention-grabber.

Politicians have talked almost nonstop about the economy and the debt for the past several years, especially in Illinois, since it has one of the highest debts of all the states. One thing that has been missing for awhile, however, is the knowledge and practice of stewardship of the resources provided by the taxpayer. For Illinois politics, stewardship seems scarce. Stewardship is a responsibility; more than that, however, stewardship is a privilege.

Stewardship is service carried out by a person who is responsible for possessions belonging to another. The steward is responsible to carry out the owner's instructions regarding that property. Elected officials become the stewards of the people's resources. Governments may levy taxes, but everything collected is subject to appropriate use. When the framers of our form of government put quill pen to parchment and wrote those enduring words "We the people ... ," the values changed from feudal lords, monarchy and privilege, to individuals with freedom.

Each individual living in a stable society must strive toward maintaining integrity, high moral values and trust. More important, the person who is thrust by "we the people" to be an official is even more obligated to take on a lifestyle of the highest character. To marginalize the need for ethics is to abrogate that responsibility of stewardship. It is shameful that Illinois politicians have spent to a deficit of many billions of dollars. There is not a family in Illinois that could maintain that proportion of deficit spending and expect to prosper.

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Clearly, those responsible for this deficit have been poor stewards of the people's resources. It resulted in money being spent for "bridges to nowhere" and projects that benefit only a few. Meanwhile, communities read about local school programs being eliminated due to limited resources. We find politicians now discussing pensions, shortfalls of funding, higher taxes, need for reform and more accountability.

The plight of Illinois is not unlike the circumstances we are experiencing throughout the United States. We are bombarded from the policy wonks and the news reporters about our debt climbing into the trillions of dollars. "Generational debt" it is being called: borrowing from our children and grandchildren to pay off our current debt. As individual states and the federal government collectively continue to fashion our national economy upon a foundation of deceit and shadow truth, the integrity of our way of life will continue to plummet. Stewardship of resources is squandered by professional, lifelong career politicians who seem to have an epiphany of conscience about the time re-election rolls around.

In the leadership role of a public office, no matter what level, the foundational strength is the individual's moral character, along with practiced ethics and values of good stewardship.

Is this not among the most important requisites for holding any public office?


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