Every professional faces the obligation of maintaining the public’s trust in the charge of our duties. The perception of impropriety can be just as damaging as an improper act itself. The lion’s share of cases I hear sitting on my state’s registration board involve technical deficiencies, misinterpretations, simple oversights, and among other things, isolated incidences of carelessness. However, we occasionally see conduct that the public perceives as smelling worse than an unbathed naturalist standing next to a kimchee covered skunk rolling around in a vomit pile behind the “relief station” at Burning Man 2018.
Every once in a blue moon I am called to evaluate repugnant behavior in a fair and consistent manner. We are all human and occasionally subjects of crazy unexplainable behavior which must be considered in disciplinary recommendations. Sorting out technical violations for the most part is a matter of understanding and comparing written rules and standards. On the other hand, when a registrant violates the public trust, my board will pinch a clothespin on our nose for the sake of giving every registrant fair consideration despite a putrid odor.
The famous author Aldo Leopold left us a great reflection of professional conduct. “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” We live in a time when cameras and connectivity offer the public a dashboard to monitor professional conduct. We also are accustomed to a hypersensitive media emotionally inflaming every scintilla of suffering beyond the elastic limits of truth or relevance. Considering that the world is just one upload away from the next viral video, the Board’s equity in a matter may not save a foul registrant’s reputation from the prying eyes of the internet. In this climate professional registrants must hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct. Heeding Aldo Leopold’s thoughts offers the public a gesture of your respect for their health, safety, and welfare. You also may be the star of just another deleted security video that was too uneventful and boring to go viral.
My experience tells me the law and ethics are not synonymous. For example, Arizona Revised Statute 38-503 defines conflict of interest as:
“A. Any public officer or employee of a public agency who has, or whose relative has, a substantial interest in any contract, sale, purchase or service to such public agency shall make known that interest in the official records of such public agency and shall refrain from voting upon or otherwise participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such contract, sale or purchase.
B. Any public officer or employee who has, or whose relative has, a substantial interest in any decision of a public agency shall make known such interest in the official records of such public agency and shall refrain from participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such decision.” So, the councilman’s wife can provide road materials to the city if the councilman declares it and refrains from the actual vote. No sweat if you live in Kingman, Arizona which is a very cost prohibitive six hour haul fee away from everywhere. The townsfolk are happy to have anyone provide materials. However, in Metro Phoenix, such an arrangement might offer the public a perception of impropriety especially to competing gravel pits, political rivals, or worse yet the zombies down at the newsroom num-numing on the next Watergate scandal. Both scenarios are perfectly legal in Arizona with the public weighing the standard of propriety.
I don’t have a lot of insight to offer except that all surveyors are ethical, most to a wholesome fault, a few faltering around the minimal letter of law, and one or two are right up there on the 2007 ENRON leadership roster. Measure your ethics to the hundredth and stick with the first order benchmarks of professional conduct.