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Was Masters golf trip a case of dumb and dumber?

July 29, 1997

The Washington County Commissioners president and two administrators are innocent of ethics violations stemming from a contractor-facilitated trip to the Masters golf tournament this spring.

This not-unexpected decision was handed down Friday by a panel made up of former jurors from the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, including the woman who said that race didn't play any part in the verdict.

No, that's not completely accurate.

The decision was actually handed down by the Washington County Ethics Commission, which said that while it "was not a bright idea," for the county employees to take advantage of the sweetheart deal offered by INVESCO Capital Management Inc., technically there really wasn't anything wrong with each man accepting an $8,000-value Masters ticket for $100 a day.

Although come to think of it, the Ethics Commission probably would have found O.J. innocent, given the chance. You know, taking a razor sharp stiletto and slashing two people's throats to within an inch of decapitation "was not a bright idea," but that any sort of punishment "would be entirely inappropriate."

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Yes, that was another conclusion of the Washington County Ethics Commission, which added "it is difficult to find a conflict of interest."

Difficult? Difficult for who, Pete Rose?

It makes you wonder what would have to transpire for the Washington County Ethics Commission to get a reading on its conflictometer. I mean if Jim Wade proposed a 90 percent tax reduction on liquor stores, would that even draw a ripple of concern from this group?

Or would they say "while it is not a bright idea..."

Textbooks can't draw up a clearer conflict than this golf deal. County ethics rules say an official can't accept any gift valued higher than $25. And then the three people most directly responsible for managing the county's $22 million pension fund (County Administrator Rod Shoop, personnel director Alan Davis and commissioners president Greg Snook) get a $7,600 break on Masters tickets courtesy of - guess who - the company that wants to get the county's pension business.

Duh.

Yet to the ethics board this is a gray area. It said there was no conflict because the three county folks paid what they thought was a fair price for the tickets.

So we're left with - with what? That Shoop, Davis and Snook are dumb for believing that the tickets were really worth $100 a day? Or that the Ethics Commission is dumb for believing that the trio believed the tickets were worth $100 a day.

I believe both sides are dumb. I believe they are having a contest to see who can out-dumb whom.

Without INVESCO, there is no way these guys get into the Masters for a hundred bucks a day. Period. But, and this is the cutest part, the commission said the tickets had to be worth $100, not $8,000, because scalping is illegal. Earth to Ethics Commission. When was the last time you got out in the real world?

One more tidbit, INVESCO's pension contract happens to be up Aug. 2. Think perchance it'll get renewed?

The Ethics Commission says Shoop, Davis and Snook have disqualified themselves "in every respect from the process of awarding the contract." Right. And who will negotiate the pension contract, the Washington County Commissioners' Youth of the Month?

Shoop, who controls everything in county government this side of what color shoelaces its employees can wear, divesting himself from the pension process?

Sure. And I've got an O.J. Simpson Heisman Trophy I'd like to sell to the Ethics Commission. A hundred dollars ought to cover it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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