An Ethics Question

In yesterday’s Star, Matt Tully reminded readers of a longstanding problem in the Indiana General Assembly–the multiple conflicts of interest that influence lawmaking in the Hoosier state, and the disinclination to do anything about it.

In fact, if quotes from state lawmakers are any indication, we’ve elected a fair number of people who wouldn’t recognize a conflict if it bit them on the you-know-what.

City government is evidently not exempt from that problem.

City-County Councilor Christine Scales has raised an question about the ethics of a proposal that certainly deserves more consideration than it has gotten thus far: a pending ordinance would require property owners to purchase smoke alarms with non-removable, non-replaceable “sealed” batteries with a ten-year life. On the surface, this is a reasonable safety measure, since many homeowners fail to replace shorter-lived batteries, and are thus unprotected if a fire occurs.

However, according to Counselor Scales, not only are the smoke alarms in question relatively expensive, the technology that would be required by the ordinance (a) has some safety issues of its own, which have been the subject of previous televised investigative reports; and (b) is proprietary to one company, which means the ordinance would have the effect of giving that company a monopoly on sales in Indianapolis. It further appears that the company in question has promised IFD “free smoke detectors, payment for TV and radio public-service announcements, press events and donations to IFD-favored charities” in exchange for IFD’s support for the ordinance.

I know absolutely nothing about smoke alarm technology. Perhaps the Councilor’s safety concerns are unfounded. But the ethics questions she raises are troubling and entirely legitimate, and deserve airing, and they aren’t being addressed. Instead, she reports that her questions have been met with stonewalling and silence.

Is Marion County proposing to hand a manufacturer a monopoly in return for a quid pro quo? 



    Regarding the smoke alarm question; I am deaf and require a very expensive alarm which requires electric power plus a backup battery and is most useful placed on a bedroom wall. It flashes a strobe light and produces a horribly loud siren; at least mine did till it wore out and it costs $130-$160 to replace this alarm. The proposed smoke alarm is an excellent idea but should not be required – in rental homes, who is responsible for this expense. The state of Indiana has few provisions to assist handicapped residents; who would help low-income families purchase these items? I have seen signs in home windows telling firemen that there are cats in the home and to please save them. Public safety officials have no way to know a deaf, blind or disabled person is in a home when they respond to a call. This proposed smoke alarm device is like everything else in this state – FOLLOW THE MONEY.

  2. Jo Ann, we used to have our handicapped daughter at home. She was wheel chair bound. We had a placard on the door and front window, which explained a special needs person lived here. I do not recall where we got it. I seem to recall we also contacted the local Fire House too.

    Boss Tweed would recognize our system of patronage and kick backs. He might be surprised at it’s pervasiveness through out local and state government. There seems to be no sense of shame on the part of our elected officials when it is revealed. Law Enforcement turns a blind eye on these conflicts of interest. Perhaps it is because the Laws having been written by our Elected Officials have made them so vague or toothless no crime is committed.

  3. Apparently Abdul Hakim Shabazz does not share that opinion. His piece in a recent Star explains to us uninformed that conflict of interest is just the price we pay for citizen-government. It’s clear from their actions the emphasis is on government, not citizens.

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