Friday, March 13, 2009

Chasing power

Seems we all chase success in our careers…..until it catches us.

It’s easy to get caught up with success and sometimes do some really stupid things – some of them even illegal.

An old Oklahoma boss of mine used to tell his managers: “It’s not IF someone will come looking to catch you screwing up……it’s WHEN they come. So be prepared.” The not-so-subliminal message was: walk the straight and narrow.

The fear of retribution – while still ignored by a few – has taken on increased importance in an age when faith, integrity, and ethics seem to be in short supply. And while it is perhaps not the most desirable tool to help keep over-achievers from running afoul of their responsibilities, it may be the most effective.

Still, folks succumb.

I opened a Wall Street Journal this week to see a photograph of a lady with whom I’ve worked in the past; someone for whom I had great respect and some admiration. Alas, she had basked in the glow of Washington success too long and made some serious mistakes.

Ann Marie Copland was a long-time legislative aide and executive assistant to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran for nearly 30 years. Last week (3/10) she pleaded guilty to violating federal conflict-of-interest laws by accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts in exchange for helping clients of the infamous Jack Abramoff. She reportedly had received more than $25,000 in food and entertainment tickets between 2002 through 2004. Her actions are disturbing and disappointing to say the least. That’s not the Ann Copland I thought I knew through most of the 1990s.

I worked with Ann often during the eight years I was with the Mississippi Educational Television (ETV) network. Thad’s dad was a one-time chairman of our ETV Board of Directors, and his mother had been a schoolteacher. It gave Senator Cochran reason to take increased interest in public broadcasting, and he has been a strong supporter of Mississippi ETV and public broadcasting. My principal liaison with Senator Cochran’s office was Ann Copland.

Highly regarded throughout most of the public broadcasting community, Ann was given the “Champion of Public Broadcasting” award by the Association of Public Television Stations(APTS). And I was not entirely surprised when she returned to Mississippi to become Deputy Director of the public broadcasting network last year, a post from which she has since resigned.

It’s sad when you see a talented and capable person stumble and fall victim to the ways of Washington… fall victim to abusing power.

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