Theresa Garza Ruiz Gets It – Day 88 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Yesterday, I received an e-Newsletter from Theresa Garza Ruiz, the Jackson County legislator in the first district at-large seat. Her newsletter included the text of a column she wrote for The Examiner, expressing her feelings about her vote on abandoning Ethical Home Rule for Jackson County.

Theresa Garza Ruiz agrees that the Ethics Blackout is wrong, and she call on the “old dogs” to fix it. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and signals hope that significant change will be coming to the dark underworld of the Jackson County legislature.

Ms. Garza Ruiz writes:

For far too long, Jackson County government and “ethics” have been somewhat of a running joke throughout the metro area. Honestly, when were these two items used in a good light in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence?

In spite of the progress the county has achieved in the past few years, I can understand why critics are skeptical on whether our hearts are truly into overhauling the rules that govern us. In my book, the fact that a Jackson County ethics code was even passed speaks volumes, but then I’m optimistic.

When decent people are faced with having to compromise due to situational choices, then an ethical dilemma has been presented. Ethical dilemmas can involve right-versus-wrong situations or right-versus-right situations – also known as no-win situations.

So, there it is. The ethics code is not perfect.

In an of itself, the admission that the code is imperfect is what I would call “Praising with faint damn”. By excluding the legislature from Ethical Home Rule, the County Legislature has undercut the Jackson County Charter and established a arrogant, almost monarchic attitude toward ethics in Jackson County. “The ethics code is not perfect” is kind of like writing “The economy is not perfect” or “The intelligence on Iraq was not perfect.”

But, thank goodness, Ms. Garza Ruiz was just getting warmed up. She next turns her focus on the wretched good-old-boys who have long viewed Jackson County Government as their fiefdom and family employment agency: “With no disrespect intended, as that old saying goes, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ Not that it’s impossible, it just takes time.” So far, its been 88 days of time trying to get the old dogs on the Jackson County Legislature to learn the new trick of being ethical. Seems like Ms. Garza Ruiz is getting impatient in her role as the “dog whisperer” of ethics.

Finally, Ms. Garza Ruiz ends on two high notes:

The ability for any Ethics Commission to deal credibly and forthrightly with the issues that come before it depends on a governing body’s willingness to reform its own ethical rules and behavior. As I said before, greater scrutiny and public awareness can help set a higher standard and force change from our leaders and our governmental institutions. In the end, no matter what’s on the books, it still boils down to personal integrity.

As for the ethics commissioners who resigned, I was disappointed upon hearing the news. It was a good group of solid, decent, hardworking individuals dedicated to upholding the public interest.

In those two paragraphs, Ms. Garza Ruiz draws a line in the sand and dares her fellow county legislators to remain on the wrong side of it. Where Dan Tarwater attacked the citizens who served, and Dennis Waits accused them of playing politics, but Ms. Garza praises them. Old dogs snarl and bite when people want to look inside their doghouse, but friendly dogs welcome them.

More significantly, Ms. Garza Ruiz sets out the terms of the changes she seeks. By speaking of “a governing body’s willingness to reform its own ethical rules and behavior”, she is saying that the bogus reforms being bandied about by corrupt insiders that do not result in Ethical Home Rule will be insufficient.

It is wonderful to see an elected official embrace – even encourage – scrutiny of the Jackson County legislature designed to “force change from our leaders and our governmental institutions.” It’s going to happen, and Theresa Garza Ruiz is going to wind up on the right side of Jackson County history over this issue. Ethical Home Rule will return to the Jackson County Courthouse, and the smart legislators are getting on board.

Thank you, Theresa, for the leadership and encouragement. We’re glad you’re not joining of the pack of old dogs.

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