Why Acting Ethically, Legally Matters

HomeCity of AustinWhy Acting Ethically, Legally Matters

Many a high-profile scandal persisted for years because nobody stepped forward

Part 1 in a Series
Posted Tuesday April 14, 2015 9:41am

A president of the United States used his office to have sex with an intern. A Penn State assistant football coach was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse. And a world famous comedian is a serial rapist?

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby

What Bill Clinton, Jerry Sandusky, and Bill Cosby have in common is that nobody stepped forward or spoke up to expose these men early on when they violated women and children.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist who wrote an article about Cosby published in 2008 by The Atlantic, knew about the rape allegations and barely mentioned them in what he wrote.

The year 2008 was a time when Barack Obama was running for president and Cosby was making speeches he said were “call-outs” to black men for self-reliance and striving.

The only mention of Cosby’s misdeeds with women in Coates’ 7,000-word article was literally a parenthetical remark: “(In 2006, Cosby settled a civil lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed that he had sexually assaulted her; other women have come forward with similar allegations that have not gone to court.)”

Last year, as a growing number of women were publicly telling their stories about being Cosby’s victims, Coates looked back at his failure to fully report on the rape allegations, noting he was having his first big shot at writing for a national magazine. “But Cosby was such a big target that I thought it was only a matter of time before someone published a hard-hitting investigative piece. And besides, I had in my hand the longest, best, and most personally challenging piece I’d ever written.

“It was not enough,” he wrote in The Atlantic of November 19, 2014.

“I don’t have many writing regrets. But this is one of them,” Coates wrote. “I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough. I take it as a personal admonition to always go there, to never flinch, to never look away.”

A call for responsibility

But we do look away, sometimes. Maybe too often.

What do we, or will we, regret letting go, instead of grabbing hold and taking personal responsibility for addressing the problem?

Paul Liebman
Paul Liebman

In his energetic 40-minute presentation, Paul Liebman, chief compliance officer for the University of Texas at Austin, used Clinton, Sandusky, Cosby, and others as examples of misbehavior that could have been prevented or at least stopped much sooner.

Liebman urged us not to look away but to step up.

It is not news that there are a few bad actors in most work places. But their actions can continue only if—through apathy or fear of repercussion—no one does anything about it.

“There is nothing you are doing in your job right now that requires you to do something unethical or illegal,” Liebman told the audience in the first session of the City of Austin’s Open Government Symposium April 9, 2015.

People know when something’s gone seriously wrong. We worry what will happen to us if we stick our neck out and report it. We wonder if it will it do any good.

To those in such a spot, Liebman offered encouragement in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

Liebman went beyond the moral admonition to provide “three compelling reasons why acting legally and ethically matters.”

• It’s the right thing to do.

• It’s good for business.

• It leads to happier workplaces.

Liebman circled back to the example of Bill Cosby to ask, “Why didn’t anyone around him do something? How many lives would not have been damaged if someone spoke up?”

Fear would make many hesitate. After all, Lance Armstrong cheated spectacularly and destroyed the lives of those who called him out.

But, Liebman said, “You can make a difference.”

That’s what he’s learned in 25 years of work at various jobs involving thousands of investigations. People’s lives have been made better because someone spoke up.

“You are more than what you do. Your title should not confine you and your job does not define you.”

City facilitates reporting problems

In essence, without actually using the word, Liebman was encouraging people to be whistleblowers when the occasion calls for it, to step up and be part of the solution when something is seriously amiss.

To facilitate that kind of civic responsibility the City Auditor’s Integrity Unit accepts and investigates reports of fraud, waste or abuse. Reports can be made by calling 512-974-2798 or by going online to http://www.austintexas.gov/auditor/integrity. Reports may be anonymous if desired.


City of Austin Administrative Bulletin 06-03 of August 20, 2007, Fraud, Waste and Abuse Reporting, Investigation and Prevention (This link is no longer functional.)

Video: 2015 Open Government Symposium: Why Acting Legally and Ethically Matters

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