Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right

  • Article by: Lou Gelfand
  • Star Tribune
  • February 12, 2006 - 5:54 PM

The kerfuffle over replaced Minneapolis School District Supt. Thandiwe Peebles has melted to a knotty problem about what to do with her leased Cadillac SUV.

Peebles signed a four-year lease in 2004 for $534 a month, using her $700 monthly car allowance. The district assumed the liability. What she did was legal but ethically questionable.

She will be able to afford replacing the car, which had a sticker price of $47,000: Her resignation under pressure was accompanied by a $179,500 settlement.

The Star Tribune invited readers to suggest how the schools should use the Cadillac SUV. Some of the responses, published Feb. 1, were creative. One recommended painting it school-bus yellow and using it for student field trips. The one I preferred was using it as an employee-of-the-month award with a parking spot by the door. The winner would, of course, have to agree to convert it into a car-pool vehicle.

The sight of the school superintendent piloting a Cadillac to schools where students are deprived of educational tools because of budget issues should have tweaked Peebles' ethics consciousness.

One example: Several Minneapolis public schools no longer have student newspapers because of cutbacks. Roosevelt High School recently published an edition thanks to the Urban Journalism Workshop supported by the University of St. Thomas. I witnessed the lamentable gap in the curriculum this winter as a volunteer.

It is not too late to pick up the debris. The school board should sponsor a student essay contest on ethics and reward the winners with modest prizes, reading their papers on the schools' radio station, KBEM-FM, and publishing the essays for distribution to all students -- and to the school board.

Full disclosure

When a newspaper without a Washington bureau wants an in-person interview with its U.S. senator or a congressional representative, a reporter is sent to Washington.

The expense, of course, is the newspaper's. But the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman reported last week that a review of congressional disclosure forms showed that Sunday morning "television shows routinely pay travel costs, from car fare to air fare," to bring elected officials to their studios.

An example, it reported, was $13,998.50 Fox News paid to bring U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and his Capitol Police security detail in a rented jet to Washington from Houston. The interview took place Oct. 4, four days after DeLay was indicted on campaign fund laundering charges.

The story noted that Fox News failed to inform viewers that it underwrote the expense of bringing DeLay to Washington.

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