Policy vs. Practice

When I was working for Sprint, I volunteered to be a member of the company’s Peer Review Board.  The Board was a means of conflict resolution between an employee and management.  The training was extensive. One segment was Policy…what was the written policy approved by the company, versus Practice…how those policies were actually implemented. Often the practice bore no relationship with policy.

When Practice fails policy, corruption appears.  That is the situation that is being uncovered in Cass County. I found another instance of Practice failing Policy today on KansasCity.com.

Fresh Cass County nepotism accusations


The Kansas City Star

Another Cass County officeholder is being accused of nepotism.

This time it’s Pam Shipley, who has held the collector’s job since 2003. According to a complaint lodged this week by County Auditor Ron Johnson, Shipley violated Missouri law earlier this year when she promoted a staff member — a first cousin — to a higher position.

That the employee, Denise Goddard, worked in Shipley’s office is not an issue. She had been on staff when Shipley won the collector’s position nine years ago. State law allows an “inherited” employee who is related as long as the relative receives only annual raises.

But according to Johnson, when Shipley’s chief deputy retired in January, Goddard began performing those duties at increased pay.

“The addition of duties and pay is a de facto promotion regardless of title,” Johnson wrote in his complaint.

Shipley said Thursday that she “strongly disagreed” with Johnson’s accusation and that she is confident she did nothing inappropriate or illegal.

The case is being reviewed by the Cass County prosecutor’s office.

Cass County has suffered under 40 years of single party rule. There has been no audits of the county books in all that time until Ron Johnson was elected County Auditor.  What is being found is a level of minor and major corruption that has insidiously grown from the failure of Practice to follow Policy.  In this case, the Policy is state law.

That same failure of Practice vs. Policy is the cause of Janet Burlingame’s problems.  The Policy, state nepotism law again, forbade using family members as paid employees or contractors by elected officials. A practice had developed in the 40 year absence of county audits. That practice violated state nepotism law.  Without county audits, that unlawful practice became rooted. That is corruption.

The unfortunate part of all this is that it is entirely probable that neither Shipley nor Burlingame saw their acts as corruption. Burlingame likely followed the Practice established by her predecessors—an embedded practice that had been established over decades like the practice of approving no-bid contracts.

The failure of Practice to follow policy is not limited to a single party.  While both Shipley and Burlingame are democrats, the Commissioners who approved those no-bid contracts were republicans.

Corruption, once embedded, is extremely difficult to remove.  It is not a party issue, it is not a political issue, it is a cultural issue. Changing cultures is always difficult. The force of law, however, helps.

In a corporation, violations of Policy can be affirmed, mediated or, if necessary, make Practice the new policy.  In government, that can not be done. Practice must follow policy. The failure of Practice to follow Policy can have dire consequences as Burlingame has discovered and now Shipley as well.

I congratulate Cass County Auditor Ron Johnson. Correcting failures of policy and insuring that practice follows policy is a thankless job—except from us who demand that our elected officials be corruption free…or face the consequences.

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