EDITORIAL: Going too far with kindness
July 3, 2008 · Updated 11:13 PM
The Island County Commissioners each year declare Random Acts of Kindness Week. But soon after doing so on Jan. 28, they acted a bit too kindly toward county employees by adopting the so-called finders keepers ordinance.
Prior to the new ordinance, county workers who found an item while on the job turned the item over to the county. If unclaimed after 60 days the item was sold, with proceeds going to the county.
The new ordinance allows the finder to keep the item if it is remains unclaimed after 60 days. For example, if a road crew workers finds a diamond ring in the ditch (perhaps there was a fight in a passing car and a woman threw her engagement ring out the window), then that ring becomes the workers after 60 days. The county loses whatever money the sale of the ring would have brought on the open market.
Public Works Director Bill Oakes argued for the new ordinance, saying county workers should have the same right as any other member of the public regarding found items. The commissioners unfortunately bought his argument.
The fact is, county employees are in the ditch because taxpayers are paying them to be there. In addition, the ditch belongs to the taxpayers. It only makes sense that any unclaimed found item go to the taxpayers, not the public employee who found it.
More than just ditches are involved. What if a deputy finds a certain object, and later claims it as his own? Some felon with a grudge against the deputy could say he stole it and the allegation, whether true or false, would cause uncomfortable publicity.
Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley was caught by surprise by the ordinance. When he heard about it, he rightly told his own employees that the old rules stand in his department. Allowing employees to keep found items will open a Pandoras box of ethical allegations breeding mistrust and eroding the confidence of the very people we serve, the sheriff wrote in a memo to his staff.
The county commissioners should have thought harder and solicited more advice before adopting the finders keepers ordinance. Sometimes by trying too hard to be kind, you can do something regrettable.