Sunday, May 06, 2007

When Should One Resign?

Resignation of Ambassador Randall Tobias
Resigned when his name came up on a list of call girl customers in Washington,DC. He was working on programs to stop prostitution around the world.

I will not resign, says Wolfowitz
Having made corruption his most important battle at the World Bank, his staffers now say that effort is compromised by Wolfowitz's working out a high paying job for his girlfriend. So far he refuses to step down.

BP boss quits over private life lie Lord Browne has brought British Petroleum from the sidelines of the oil industry to one of the big boys. He's also transformed the image with a strong environmental theme. More recently there have been problems with a fire in Texas that killed workers and an oil spill in Alaska caused by the erosion on neglected pipelines. But it was accusations from his former boyfriend and how he responded to them in court, that caused his resignation this week. He was planning to step down this summer.

Bush rejects calls for Gonzales resignation The list against Gonzales is both extensive and probably better known to most. After a dismal Senate grilling where he 'couldn't recall' over 70 times details of the firings of Federal Prosecutors, even Republicans are calling for his resignation.

Olmert hangs on amid resignation calls The results of the investigation of last year's invasion of Lebanon has reignited calls for Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to resign.

Embattled University of Alaska regent resigns
Jim Hayes, the University of Alaska Regent, only resigned April 27. He was first asked to resign by the governor in January and has been refusing to resign despite being under indictment for felony fraud misusing $450,000 in federal grant money at a non-profit he ran. The Alaska Legislature was working on a bill to give the Governor the power to remove the Regent when he resigned.

We have here three office holders trying to hold on, and three who have resigned in the last week. The only two didn't fight their resignations. How can we balance the public interest with fairness and justice? Well, for one thing, no one is owed public positions, though they shouldn't be removed against their will without some reasonable cause. What are reasonable grounds for asking for one's resignation or for refusing to resign? Here are some preliminary thoughts:

When people should resign:
1. They've abused the public or their employers' trust through misuse of their position - they've used their office for personal gain, and/or they have made decisions based on personal criteria, not the objective, professional criteria required.
2. They have caused harm or damage through neglect, incompetence, or other inability to do the necessary work
3. A significant portion of the public and/or the people who work with or for them no longer trust them or have confidence in them to the point that it affects the credibility of the agency or company

[March 14, 2008: The Spitzer resignation raises a possible fourth category, or maybe it's part of number 3 - hypocricy. If someone is caught violating a value he has espoused strongly, perhaps that increases the pressure to resign.]
When people should fight to keep their positions:
A starting assumption for all of these is that, using as objective evaluation criteria as possible, they are doing a good job.
1. Despite doing a good job others are attacking them This could arise for various reasons:
a. Whistleblowers are often attacked for revealing bad practices.
b. Someone's good performance can make others look bad in comparison
c. Someone else may covet their jobs - it appears this was part of the reason behind the firing of the federal prosecutors
d. There may be a power struggle between different political camps or ideologies
2. They want to finish a project or program they have begun.
3. They want to hold their place until the regime changes - Supreme Court justices may wait until after an election hoping the new administration will replace them with someone of the same legal philosophy

Why people might fight to keep their jobs even if the above conditions do not hold:
1. Stepping down is seen as an admission of guilt, fault, wrongdoing
2. Admitting wrong would result in shame or disgrace
3. Stepping down would result in loss of income, or they may need a little more time in the job to qualifiy for retirement or other benefits
4. They haven't finished the work (legitimate or illegitimate) they want to get done.
5. They want to retain the power or prestige of the position
6. They want to block a rival from gaining the position
7. They honestly believe they are doing a good job
8. Stepping down reflects poorly on their supporters or allies
9. Their personal identity is wrapped up in the job and without the job they have nothing to do
10. They are afraid to face reality and accept that they aren't doing a good job

Of course, more than one could apply.

So we can create 'stories' around any of the headlines above that would justify a swift resignation or a vigorous fight to retain the job. The dilemma for us is to be able to fill in the facts well enough to determine which story actually fits. The media should play a key role in this. And some media do. Unfortunately, the media have various motives other than exposing truth these days. Making a profit is essential for any business. For many media organizations, improving the bottom line is easier if they produce cheap and sensational stories rather than in-depth investigations. Other media outlets are simply propaganda machines to gain power for their ideological causes. There is no interest in the truth, only the appearance of being fair and unbiased. But ultimately, citizens bear the responsibility of knowing about the people they vote for or against. There is enough available information to gain informed judgments, that enable one to determine if Wolfowitz is being hounded because the action with his girlfriend a) was a serious breach of ethics and a crippling blow to the World Bank, b) was an understandable issue to use to oust him for other more serious, but complex problems or c) an issue to be used because he has been threatening the cushy jobs of long time World Bank bureaucrats. I'm afraid it's harder for me to find facts that justify Gonzales' continued tenure as Attorney General. though if his supporters strain hard enough they could argue it is simply a political attack on his ideology. You can evaluate the other headlines yourselves.

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