There’s a reason that during the sentencing phase of trials judges and juries often refer to the remorse, or lack of it, shown by those convicted of crimes. Those who admit their mistakes and appear to have genuine regret for the harm they have caused are more likely to rehabilitate and less likely to reoffend.
Sadly, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen appeared not only unrepentant but defiant after the state Executive Ethics Board fined him $15,000 for violating state ethics laws over a several year period. But did Owen show remorse? Repent? Take responsibility for his actions?
No. Not so much as an apology. Instead, Owen issued a written statement that said, in part:
“This settlement is agreed to merely to put an end to a frustrating process that does not allow me or any elected official the right to be heard by a jury of our peers as is guaranteed any other citizen. Therefore, any further effort would just take away from the important work of my office. It is imperative that we just move on.”
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That doesn’t sound like a man willing to learn from his mistakes.
Owen used his public office and staff resources in support of his nonprofit, Strategies for Youth. When the nonprofit’s income started to decline, he hired its staff musician as an administrative assistant in the lieutenant governor’s office.
He solicited contributions from state lobbyists for the nonprofit, which paid his wife a salary and provided his family with a $33,000 pickup truck. We wonder how many contributors to his nonprofit would support their donations being used for the purchase of that truck.
In the settlement of the case, the ethics board agreed to waive $5,000 of the fine if Owen stays out of trouble for the next two years – call it an ethical probation. The fine reduction was by no means a slam dunk for Owen, who has previously run afoul of the standards governing conduct in public office.
In 1998, Owen paid $7,000 to the Executive Ethics Board to cover the cost to investigate allegations that he used his office improperly to oppose Initiative 685, which would have decriminalized marijuana. In 2011, the Public Disclosure Commission fined Owen $1,000 for failing to file campaign finance reports on time. Questions were asked about the transfer of $23,713 at the end of his 2008 campaign into an “office fund” that he used to reward staff in the lieutenant governor’s office.
Any public official, at any level of government, should know when he or she is playing too close to the out-of-bounds line. Rubbing up against questionable practices disrespects the office and does a disservice to the majority of elected officials and public sector employees who carefully avoid any hint of impropriety.
As the ethics board said, Owen is a “high-ranking elected official and these types of violations significantly reduce the public respect and confidence in state government employees.”
Owen has done good work around the state speaking out against bullying in schools and drug abuse among teens. But his dubious behavior, and his remorseless attitude, cast a dark shadow over that legacy.