Ethical Leadership - The experience of JCU's 3rd IBD cohort

Lee Fisher - Ohio Lt. Governor

Why can ethical decision-making be such a challenge to elected officials?

Ethical decision-making can be challenge for elected officials and government employees because the lines are not necessarily bright or clear. If an action is clearly prohibited by law, there's no excuse for not knowing where the line is. However, in the public world, doing something that has the "appearance" of impropriety can be fatal to an elected official's or government employee's career, but the lines are often blurred. Defining the appearance of impropriety is subjective and contextual. Here's my rule_ if you have to ask yourself whether there may be an appearance of impropriety- then assume that the answer is yes, and don't do it.

In your last campaign, how important was it to promote ethical decision-making? 
In my most recent campaign for the U.S. Senate we had a number of ethical issues we had to address, all of which dealt with the subjective area of the "appearance" of impropriety. For example, as Lt. Governor of Ohio, I received daily executive protection from the Ohio Highway Patrol. When I announced my candidacy or the U.S. Senate in February 2009, the Governor and I had to make a decision whether to continue executive protection for me during the Senate campaign. I continued to have significant daily state responsibilities as Lt. Governor which clearly justified the continued use of executive protection. However, since I was running for a new office rather than for re-election, I had to mindful that there would likely be some criticism that my using  the Ohio Highway Patrol for trips that were political would no longer be appropriate. There is no statute or rule that covers this situation. We decided to err on the side of caution, and we discontinued my use of state executive protection for the duration of the U.S. Senate campaign. 

What type of continuing education on ethics do national level politicians receive?
Elected public officials in Ohio have access to training in ethics, but it is not mandatory. The Strickland- Fisher Administration, by our own policy, made such ethics training mandatory for all state employees and and board and commission members. I believe that annual ethics training should be mandatory for all state and federal employees. The value of such education, if it is done well, is that it focuses public servants on the varying scenarios that raise challenging ethical issues. Continuing education is critical in the fast-paced world of government and politics where decisions are made quickly, and judgment and intuition are the key determinants for determining whether the answer should be yes or no.