I stopped listening to the political analysis of David Brooks and Mark Shields on the OPB News hour long ago. Their remarks strike me as less insightful than wisdom be gained by staring at ditch water. But I was across the room one evening, cooking dinner, when their commentary came on. Judy Woodruff’ had wrapped up an interview with Hillary Clinton in which the Secretary repeated her remark that her decision to use a private server was a bad one but insisted that neither she nor her staff had done anything wrong. By the time Brooks and Shields appeared on the screen, they were foaming at the mouth like knights of the Ku Klux Klan looking for a lynching.
Given the analysis that followed, I’d bet neither journalist has ever served as an administrator. The first rule of a good manager, unless a law has been broken is, “Don’t throw the staff under the bus.” (Also known as The Buck Stops Here) The rule explains how Clinton could second guess her decision to use a private server yet continue to praise her staff and insist no laws had been broken. If people expected a broader mea culpa, they would be disappointed. Clinton has an obligation to her former employees who, like her, have been investigated and continue to live under a shadow. Let me illustrate my point by telling a story.
When I served in public office, my staff had a standing order never to reveal my votes prior to the public meeting. I made that demand for two reasons: 1) sharing my vote with the staffs of other commissioner was a violation of the open meetings law in spirit if not in fact and 2} stating my position before public testimony struck me as an insult to those who might come to give argument.
On one occasion, a staff member forgot my stricture and let it be known how I would vote on an upcoming issue. Later, he learned I’d changed my mind, and he was forced to admit he’d broken my rule. My fellow Commissioners were expecting my support. I was left with two choices: I could discredit my representative in the eyes of others. Or, I could give him cover.
I took the second option. My reasoning was simple. 1) The point at stake was a small one. 2) Embarrassing my staff member would diminish his effectiveness with his peers. 3) He might resent my action which would sour our working relationship in the future.
Critics might argue what I did betrayed my trust with the public. In the short term, that could be said. But I was looking to the future. Mine was an excellent employee who’d made an mistake. I voted in concert with my fellow commissioners without joy but purposefully. The decision didn’t make me dishonest or unworthy of my position. Other values were at stake. Shields and Brooks would never understand, I’m sure.