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Changing the Culture

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A season or two back, the phrase "culture of entitlement" got some decent mileage in Shelby County -- thanks to a scandal involving the free and easy use of credit cards by officials in county government. It was probably no coincidence that former state Attorney General Michael Cody, a Memphian, invoked the phrase again this week in detailing the case for a "sea change" in state ethics legislation.

Cody, who served as co-chairman of Governor Phil Bredesen's special task force on Ethics in Government, made it clear in an address to downtown Rotarians this week that the "deeply cynical" attitude toward ethics reform in government and in much of the media was not shared by the public at large.

Members of the task force were "not moved to make excuses, to backpedal, or to quibble," said Cody. Neither were the citizens they heard from. Some version of the panel's tough recommendations, as channeled through a six-member legislative leadership group, are almost certain to be enacted when the General Assembly convenes in January. The three essential needs, as outlined by Cody, were "to set new limits" on outside funding sources, "to enhance disclosure" of such sources, and "to tighten enforcement." In particular, the previously untrammeled influence of lobbyists should be curbed and regulated.

To those who imputed naiveté about the way government works to his group, Cody said, "We do understand the political process in Tennessee. We don't like it, and we want to change it." So do we.

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