The need to repair harm done to the community is a principal reason why an ethics commission should consist not of officials or those chosen by officials, but of members of the community who have, and appear to have, no special relationship with those who will come before them, or with their high-level colleagues. Only a truly independent ethics commission that represents the community, as a jury does, can be trusted to see things from the community’s point of view and share its concerns.
Considering this, it seems unbelievable that most ethics proceedings are handled by officials themselves, including the legislative body, city or county attorney, supervisor or personnel department. Rarely is any outside point of view, not to mention the community’s, taken into account.
It also seems unbelievable that the respondent’s family, colleagues, subordinates, and others close to the respondent are left out of ethics proceedings, even though they too may be victims, sometimes doubly: they feel that their trust in the respondent was misplaced, and sometimes they are asked to do nothing but stand by the respondent, or even to hide information or make misrepresentations, not only of facts, but of their feelings about what occurred and how the respondent dealt with the conflict situation.
Telling a story, from beginning to end, so that one’s point of view is heard and acknowledged, and listening to others’ version of the story and sincere apologies, is often all that people want out of a painful situation. This is something that trials do a poor job of providing, and most ethics proceedings don’t do so well, either. This can best be done when procedural and evidentiary requirements are voluntarily put aside, when due process gives way to simply hearing everyone out.
In 2011 I wrote about story telling in terms of a post-proceeding debriefing. It’s possible that story telling via a restorative justice approach might be even more valuable.
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