Service of Freebies

August 21st, 2014

Categories: Ethics, Freebies, Politicians, Taxes

free

In one of my first real jobs after college the policy was clear: If you interview someone who works for a match manufacturer, don’t let anyone even light your cigarette and don’t accept a book of them. I subscribe to this philosophy for myself today although I’m not always book of matchesas strict when observing others’ behavior.

Standing in line at a service station to pay for milk and a lotto ticket last week the cashier waved at a State Trooper, who’d made himself a cup of coffee, and called out, “Go on!” He did, without paying. Didn’t bother me. My husband thought he should have paid.

In “P.R. pros evaluate mayor’s free rides,” on crainsny.com, Andrew J. Hawkins reported that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t pay for his subway rides. I don’t think that police staff or MTA workers do either. So that didn’t bother me.

ItalyWhat did was when I read Michael Howard Saul’s article in The Wall Street Journal that taxpayers covered the cost of his white Mercedes and driver during his vacation in Italy, [his spokesperson wouldn't tell Saul what it cost]; his travel expenses to a family funeral in Massachusetts last weekend and to Atlantic City for non-work related reasons in May.

I thought of the matches when I read earlier that his children were given coveted City Hall internships–a leg up on any young person’s resume even if unpaid. The Mayor got the OK from the conflict of interest board. Legality isn’t the issue.

Back to Hawkins who wrote: “Other elected officials said they reimbursed the city for non-official travel, but the mayor’s office pointed to a ruling that allows him to travel on the public’s dime.” I wonder if employers/clients would welcome taxi/car rental charges from employees/consultant’s vacations on expense/out of pocket reports? Sure it happens. But should it? Remember the matches.

Where do you draw the line? Should public officials be models of behavior? Am I too straight-laced on the subject?

draw the line

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8 Responses to “Service of Freebies”

  1. David Reich Said:

    I think The mayor should pay for his personal travel expenses. If his security people think he should be driven by a cop or guard, then fine, let the cost of the car rental be covered by the city. But travel for him and his family on personal business is not for us, the taxpayers, to cover.

    No one pays for my personal travel… no one but me, that is.

    Where I live, in Mount Vernon, the mayor routinely goes to local restaurants and walks out without paying… not even a tip for the waiters. Maybe the restaurant owners feel it’s a plus that the mayor patronizes them, but to me, that’s just taking advantage.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Amen, David!

    Your Mayor should at least leave a tip. Amazed he isn’t embarrassed!

    How often, when traveling on business where my out of pocket expenses are covered, does an attendant, say at a parking garage, hand me a wad of receipts when I ask for just one. Those pricey gift stores in hotels are there for a reason: I know people who charge suitcases and all sorts of stuff unrelated to business to their employer or clients and the bills end up on the hotel totals. Just because it’s done all the time doesn’t make it right.

  3. JPM Said:

    As a former military policeman, I recall being taught that even one cup of coffee could compromise you if something went wrong. In the best of all possible worlds it is wrong to accept bribes, or “freebees” or “gifts” to put it more politely.

    Pragmatically, I accept that the “right and wrong” of bribery depends upon the culture in which you live. In much of the third world, policemen and mayors could not survive were they not allowed to accept bribes. Therefore, since New York City is a weird combination of some of the first and the third worlds, I can only conclude that New Yorkers are now blessed with the leadership of a third world mayor.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JPM,

    I should have made clear that I was writing about the US only. I lived in a country where nothing was done without a bribe/gift–it was normal.

    As for the Mayor, I don’t know what world he thinks he’s in and my guess is that today some of the so-called third world countries are doing better economically than this one as their citizens have the jobs ours once had–but I digress. I don’t question the legality of his freebies; I don’t agree with the entitled spirit which permits him to accept/expect them.

  5. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Fairchild had a dollar amount that was considered ethical; at the time, $200. I believe people should always OFFER to pay their own way, but there is a certain amount of “play” in accepting food, drinks and holiday gifts. Basically, I’ve always followed the precept of “let your conscience be your guide.” If you are going to be compromised or feel in any way obligated to someone, then you cannot and must not accept whatever is being offered—whether it is something small like a cup of coffee, or something large, like show tickets. That being said, however, there were many, many people at Fairchild who accepted VERY expensive gifts (designer clothes, entire dinnerware and silverware sets, perfumes, etc.) who never seemed to bat an eye. When it comes to elected officials, I believe the situation should be clear: no payments for personal expenses, period. But that rule is violated on a regular basis—guess that’s why we have ballots!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Donna,

    I think that Fairchild’s policy is a good one. In pontificating I forgot about the publishing industry which is ironic given what I do for a living. Agencies/vendors get notes at holiday time from giant corporations asking that they send either nothing or no more than $25 worth of gifts to their employees.

    There were infamous interior designers and even editors who claimed to use all sorts of products in photo shoots that never made it back to clients even when it was clear that the bed ensembles, ready made curtains and so on were on loan. One designer was ordering enough stuff to fill three rooms when she was designing only one for a magazine. I learned the apartment was her son’s. I confirmed my suspicions about her greed with colleagues who worked in her city [not NY], approached the editor and asked her to please place product orders claiming it was my client’s policy. That list of lamps, rugs, decorative pillows etc. was hugely reduced from the one the designer had first presented!

    I agree with you: Public officials should be aware of how and where they spend money when the public picks up the bill and personal expenses should not be part of the equation.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    A politician and family riding around in a car while on vacation, at taxpayer expense, is not getting a freebie. He’s stealing from the public, and should be made to pay back. Free use of public transportation, as a city employee, is an entitlement, which as a gentleman, he would not accept.

    Policemen on foot often stand for hours in nasty weather, and a free coffee may merely be a token of gratitude, or possibly a courtesy. If the association is of long duration, it may be one of friendship as well as appreciation.

    There are different rules for private citizens, and it’s unwise to moralize when it comes to individual standards. Frequently critiques are made based on unsubstantiated evidence and rumor. A healthy policy is to keep ones nose out of other peoples business, unless one is looking to get it punched.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I’m with you on your first point–the public shouldn’t pay for the personal expenses of public officials.

    I agree about the policeman. This is a small town and no doubt he knows the cashier. However, a point I didn’t think of was the one JPM made–should there be a problem and should the state trooper need to take the stand and if a lawyer asked him if he ever took anything from the business, he’d be in a compromised position for all of $1. So for his sake, he should think before taking another free anything.

    As for your last point, I like Donna’s solution: Follow your conscience.

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