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Officials lecture on ethics

Carolina Wilson | Thursday, February 7, 2013

When it comes to ethical decisions, Indiana State Sen. Joe Zakas said he starts with the Constitution and also looks to state statutes.

As part of the Mendoza College of Business’ 2013 Ethics Week, Zakas gave a lecture titled “Governing for the Greater Good: Politics as a Public Service” on Wednesday.

Zakas, a Notre Dame graduate, joined St. Joseph County Councilman Jamie O’Brien and St. Joseph County Commissioner Andy Kostielney in a discussion on ethical matters as an integral part of politics. Zakas said his decision-making process as a public servant begins with the definition of ethics.

“Ethics has to do with behavior and providing guidance: to do the right thing and to act in the right way,” Zakas said.

The rules in Indiana limit legislators’ participation in lobbying activities for the more important ethical concerns due to conflict of interest issues and financial disclosure rules, he said.

“A recent change in Indiana for legislators is the inability of these people to take jobs as lobbyists for at least one year after they have left office,” Zakas said.

O’Brien, who also teaches business law at Notre Dame, highlighted issues such as campaign financing as part of the current political climate that has impacted governing.

He also offered a personal solution to the campaign financing problem, stressing the importance of transparency.

“There is widespread belief that there is a need for campaign finance control,” O’Brien said. “I personally believe that the best approach is through disclosure, to make it clear who is paying for what.”

O’Brien addressed the issue of political party gridlock. He said although accomplishing political tasks should involve some level of cooperation between two different parties, cooperation can be counterproductive if the task at hand supports a poor plan.

“There is gridlock. But, sometimes, gridlock is better than moving forward with a bad idea,” O’Brien said.

Kostielney said when working with politics at a local level, the most important question to ask is “How do we get something done?” He said collaboration is essential even when dealing with smaller county issues, such as road potholes and efficient recycling.

“We need to focus more on how to work together to accomplish things rather than trenching ourselves in the political party positions that we may hold,” Kostielney said.