It's true that I could have done more research prior to venturing into this topic. But I was hoping to generate a conversation and collaborative fact-finding mission (and I am glad to see the Facebook thread is starting to generate just the kind of information we need to pursue this issue).
I am not going to apologize for asking questions, and I don't think there was anything frantic or persecuting about them. But I
would like to elaborate on my questions in a way that makes my concerns
I am one among many
who are frustrated by how hard it has been to get regulations in place that adequately
protect core values like public health, safety, and community integrity.
When I try to figure out why that is, I chalk it up to a mix
of two reasons: 1. Our elected officials agree with my conception of the common
good and did the best they could within the Texas and federal legal system, but
the system just doesn’t allow for what we think is best. 2. Our elected officials disagree with
me, but they are working from some other reasonable conception of the common
I never chalk
it up to: 3. Our elected officials are not working from any reasonable
conception of the common good, but are in fact seeking their own private gain.
That is, I never assume a conflict of interest, which I take to be
in this case: Using public office to reap private rewards.
I believe that everyone on City Council
approaches fracking (and all other policy issues) with nothing but a genuine
commitment to seek the common good (public interest) as they see it. That is my
default mentality, and it would take a lot to convince me otherwise.
OK, but what about this business with Mr. King? If I don’t
believe something is wrong here, why raise the questions?
It’s because on its surface this sure appears like a conflict of interest even though it may
not actually be a conflict of
interest. What I mean by “actual” here is not the facts about the
interests involved (e.g., what percentage of income counts as a conflict).
Rather, I mean a situation where a person’s moral judgment is biased by the
prospects of private gain. I could imagine someone in Mr. King’s situation
being able to set aside considerations of private gain when it comes time to
make a decision. If it was me, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I
let even the slightest consideration of private gain creep into such an
important public policy. I have no reason to believe Mr. King doesn’t share
that same basic impulse of conscience. I did not and am not impugning his
But I can also imagine myself in his situation and deciding
that it would be best to recuse myself on policies impacting EagleRidge. I
might think that, because people cannot have direct access to my moral
judgment, they may suspect that I am biased even though I would know I am not.
And this suspicion might undermine our public policy efforts.
That’s why my questioning was about the problematic appearance of a conflict here. That’s
why I wrote this at the end: “even apparent
conflicts of interest can be a problem, because they can undermine trust in
government and the legitimacy of its authority.”
The standstill negotiations are
a longshot, but at least they continue dialogue and the possibility of
improvements. But they are so fragile that this apparent conflict of interest
could derail them. They might produce something worthwhile, but the public
might dismiss the outcome because it resulted from a biased process – even if there
was no actual conflict (as I define it or as defined by legal facts).
I am trying to point to this potential problem and open a space to demonstrate
how there is no actual conflict of interest, which would make the appearance go
away. Sunshine is the best remedy for apparent conflicts of interest. Being
silent on this (even if one thinks it is baseless) is not going to help. And
even though it was disclosed earlier, it should be made public again given how
much renewed importance it has taken on.
Unfortunately, my earlier post
only fanned the flames I was hoping we could squelch with an open and honest
conversation. But perhaps it is not too late. And hopefully this post helps to
reset the tenor and focus of that conversation.