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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of Dec 31, 2002 - Jan 7, 2003

Opinion Columns

Honoring rare guts and honesty at the office

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Were the American workplace less callous, Time magazine would’ve had no grounds for naming three women whistleblowers as "Persons of the Year."

Their honor by Time is an indictment of a widespread corrupt management attitude in commerce and government that whistle blowing is below-the-belt conduct. Only those willing to suffer management’s revenge dare be honest enough to expose wrongdoing at the office.

Hence, the "Persons of the Year" designation of Cynthia Cooper, of WorldCom; Coleen Rowley, of the FBI, and Sherron Watkins, of Enron, who’re being lionized for exposing incompetence in one case (the FBI) and outright fraud in the others (Enron and WorldCom).

Courage? Indeed.

Whistleblowers in this country don’t fair well, as these women surely knew when they stuck out their necks. Whistleblowers are rarely rewarded. Mostly, they’re demoted, fired or humiliated by their usually male bosses for telling the truth.

One can only guess the extent of corruption and rot festering in business and government because those with knowledge lack the will of the three women who’re being celebrated for their gustiness.

When aware of dishonesty of their employers, virtually all workers place job security above the principle of revealing cheating and fraud.

In large operations, blame the loss of independent thinking on the architects of a concept that stresses "teamwork."

Workers are constantly reminded they’re expected to be "team players" – deadly code for going along to get along, even looking the other way or keeping their mouths shut when shenanigans are evident.

Savvy organizations such as United Way have found a gold mine in this workplace herd mentality: annual fund-raising Fair Share drives of United Way have become intramural office competitions. Workers in departments are pressured into making a 100 percent showing as a unit lest another department outdo them.

(Ironically, the originator of Fair Share, United Way CEO William Aramony, considered some of that giving his fair share: he was caught stealing several million dollars for personal luxuries, including European trips and jewels for a girl friend, which landed him in the slammer for seven years on 25 criminal counts.)

It’s bad enough that the average worker is reluctant to squeal on wrongdoing for fear of retribution. But, worse, the last line of defense against corporate corruption – auditors – also has become a casualty and willing accessory when fraud is discovered.

Virtually each of dozens of large companies that have "restated" their audited financial statements was caught cooking the books with the help of auditors. The venerable auditing firm Arthur Andersen self-destructed by repeatedly being a good team player and covering up fraud of corporations that paid them handsomely.

Has the rash of corporate scandals chastened managers and executives?

Obviously not. Each of Time’s "Persons of the Year" has hinted that instead of being celebrated in their workplaces, they’ve experienced cold shoulders and sneers at the office, as if they’d betrayed the sacrosanct conduct of being a "team player."

Just how slow has Idaho been in dealing with dilapidated public schools since a lawsuit was filed against the state?

Well, the Empire State Building was built in one year and two months and the United States won World War II in three years and nine months after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, after having to mobilize virtually from scratch.

But 4th District Judge Deborah Bail for four years has avoided enforcing her order that found state funding of school construction unconstitutional, and merely allows the Idaho Legislature to dawdle even more.

The case is even further from decision: her order requiring the state to spend $400,000 to determine what schools need help is being challenged by the state attorney general’s office, meaning months, even years of trial and appeals.

Remember in all those politicians campaigning on their reverence for education?

So why haven’t Gov. Dirk Kempthorne or the legislators stepped forward to end years of delays on fixing tattered school buildings?

And how come Judge Bail can’t issue an or-else order to hold the Legislature in contempt for inaction?


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.