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Ways to build integrity in the system

Guest column: Beware of cronyism

By Lianne Thompson

Published on February 15, 2018 10:55AM

Last changed on February 19, 2018 11:43AM

Lianne Thompson

Mckenzie Farrell

Lianne Thompson


Nigel Jaquiss is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who writes for Willamette Week, a Portland newspaper. He came to Astoria to speak at the Columbia Forum on March 7, 2017, about the need for integrity, good judgment, and a rational thought process in the conduct of public affairs.

He also said something that’s been bouncing around in my brain ever since. “Corruption in Oregon doesn’t look like envelopes full of hundred-dollar bills being passed. Corruption in Oregon looks like cronyism without accountability.” Cronyism without accountability. What does that mean? And why does it matter to you?

It matters to you because it’s your money, your tax dollars that are being spent.

It might help to consider what accountability looks and feels like.

It looks like having a plan. It looks like having a vision and a mission and goals. If the goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, reality-based, and time-specific), so much the better.

One way to look at cronyism is that it means using power or authority to treat our friends differently, whether giving them a job or looking at the methods and results of how they do a job.

Accountability should be used as a tool, not a weapon, I think. It involves communication, based on respect and affection. And it empowers us, based on appropriate rules, roles, and responsibilities.

But it’s embarrassing to be measured and fail. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to talk about not meeting a goal, especially one that matters. No wonder I’ve been as popular as a skunk at a picnic for asking my fellow County Commissioners and the County Manager to develop and use accountability systems for our work.

On the other hand, if we approach the questions with some compassion for ourselves, some willingness to fail and recover, some humor and some grace. What might we be able to accomplish?

We might address our crying needs: housing, ecologically sustainable economic development, and resilience. Even if you and I are OK in today’s economy, many others are not, and they’re part of our community. We need to care about our people and our planet.

We need as many people as possible to have stable and adequate income. Manufacturing jobs can provide stable and adequate income in a way that other sectors often do not. Manufacturing also provides a more stable tax base for the rest of the services a healthy community needs, like schools, health care, public health, public safety, roads, and so on.

Mother Nature has blessed us with a natural resource base, but we are not adding as much value to the wood products as we might be able to do by developing cross-laminated timber and other mass timber technology, as is already done in Europe and Asia. Automation can be our friend

Or, instead of building a dream of a better use for our people and our planet, we can attack those who ask for accountability as a way of moving us forward together. If you want a world that works for everyone, cronyism has no place. Mutually respectful and compassionate accountability does.

Lianne Thompson is District 5 member of the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners.



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