Opinion

Editorial: An example of honesty

“I made a mistake.”

That’s what Island County Parks Superintendent Terri Arnold told a crowd of agitated citizens last week who had assembled to complain about plans to clearcut and thin the Central Whidbey forest known as Rhododendron Park.

Arnold had thought that perhaps the forest needed thinning for its own health, and that another 20-acre clearcut could be used for more community ballfields. She asked a logging company to study the possibility and completed a forest practices permit. At that point, the community got wind of the idea and all heck broke loose.

Arnold quickly realized the community response to her idea - no way! - and admitted her mistake. Her open and disarming honesty calmed the crowd, which had arrived at the county commissioners’ meeting spoiling for a fight. Instead they left satisfied that Arnold had retracted her idea, and supportive of her alternative proposal that a group of community experts be formed to study the long-term management of the forest. In other words, the forest is safe.

It is rare that a government employee admits an honest mistake. One can only wonder how history would be changed if that were the American way. After Watergate, Richard Nixon might have fired a handful of misguided supporters, apologized to the public and turned over all evidence to a prosecutor. Honest may have saved his presidency. Bill Clinton could have immediately admitted he did have sex with that woman, apologized profusely, and that may have been the end of it. President Bush could have asked for honesty from his staff, reported immediately that Karl Rove, for example, had inadvertently leaked the CIA agent’s name, and punished him appropriately. It could have been over in days instead of months or perhaps years.

Simple honesty in these three cases would have saved the American people years of investigate agony, hundreds of millions of tax dollars spent on investigations, and some of the most embarrassing pages ever written in U.S. history books.

As Terri Arnold learned, Americans will readily forgive and forget a mistake openly admitted by a public official. It’s probably too much to hope that her example will percolate up to the top of the government food chain.

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