[StBernard] Ethics laws are our treat: James Gill

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Apr 25 14:04:28 EDT 2010

Ethics laws are our treat: James Gill
By James Gill
April 25, 2010, 6:30AM

It would be a great lark to drop the nickel on some state librarian for
accepting a bag of cookies from a grateful bibliophile, especially if it was
just before Christmas. The Ethics Board would be bound to investigate,
having opined that such gifts are against the law.

The law has doubtless been frequently, if unwittingly, violated. But when
the fastidious employees of a St. Tammany Parish library were tempted with
cookies during the festive season of 2008, they sought the Ethics Board's

Now that the law is clear, perhaps it behooves public-spirited citizens to
prowl the stacks in search of bespectacled matrons with a hand in the cookie
jar. We must all do our bit to stamp out government corruption.

It is true that ratting out a helpful librarian might be regarded as
somewhat petty and mean-spirited.

But you would be spared the sidelong glances generally reserved for
busybodies. The law says a complainant's name shall never be revealed.

We had better hurry, however, for moves are afoot to spoil the fun. Rep.
Nita Hutter, R-Chalmette has filed one bill making it legal for public
employees to accept small tokens of appreciation and another removing the
cloak of anonymity from ethics informants.

Hutter proposes that public servants may accept gifts worth up to $15 each
for a total of no more than $45 a year. Legislators can hardly refuse
without looking piggish and two-faced, given that they may be seen all over
Baton Rouge scarfing up on the lobbyist's tab. Their concept of self-denial
in the name of ethics reform was to limit their freeloading to $50 a

Right. They'll look piggish and two-faced however they vote. But they'll
look worse if they kill this bill. Librarians are offered gifts only for
performing a public service well. If only the same could be said for

In truth, it would be no fun nailing a librarian on a cookie rap anyway. The
Ethics Board, which imposes only derisory punishment on the grubbiest
politicians, is hardly going to throw the book at a librarian.

Hutter's other ethics bill requires complainants to be publicly identified
once a case has been resolved. It serves no public purpose whatsoever, and
benefits only politicians. Legislators, as they return from lunch with their
favorite lobbyists, may thus be happy to vote for it. They did last year
when Hutter filed a similar bill, but Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed it.

Jindal, as an advocate of high ethical standards for all public officials,
save, perhaps, himself, will presumably veto this one too if it makes it to
his desk. Certainly he should.

Legislators argue that complainants should be publicly named because they
often have political motives. Maybe they do, but that is of no consequence.
All that matters is whether the alleged dirty deed did in fact occur.
Legislators who deplore politics should go find work in gentler surroundings
-- maybe a public library.

So long as they remain in the political game, you can be sure they will use
the powers of office to exact revenge if they are crossed. If Hutter's bill
ever passed, Ethics Board staff would be sitting around all day twiddling
their fingers.

Regardless, they will probably never again have to confront the cookie
issue. Since we will soon be free to shower snacks on our favorite
librarians, the sole remaining issue is whether to bake our own or go to the

Obviously loyal citizens taking the latter course would plump for the
official state cookie.
Astoundingly, Louisiana does not have one. But here comes Sen. Yvonne
Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, to remedy that deficiency. Her bill designates the
tea cake for that honor.
It is an odd choice, since hardly anyone of my acquaintance knows what a tea
cake looks like. No doubt they are more familiar in Baton Rouge. Maybe
Dorsey even has a constituent who makes them. It could be that some Baton
Rouge librarian is eating a forbidden tea cake right now.

James Gill is a columnist for The Times-Picayune. He can be reached at
jgill at timespicayune.com or at 504.826.3318.

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