I walk a line in Georgia politics. Many of the policy issues that face the state are ones that are not only passion points for me and for my friends, but also INVOLVE my friends. As a political consultant, I work to further my clients’ causes and move the state in, what I hope is, the right direction. More times than not, I find myself on the opposite side of the issue with people whom I admire, value their opinion, and with which I would really love to be on the same side. In this business, there are professional ethics that are dictated by the Georgia Government Transparency and Finance Committee, otherwise known colloquially as the “Ethics Commission”. There are also personal ethics that command even a higher standard. I personally take a GREAT DEAL of pride in that I never work for a cause in which I do not fully believe. It would make me a horrible advocate and I believe would reflect poorly upon my causes.
Earlier this week, the question of Governor Deal’s top education gun, Erin Hames’ ethics came into focus. The AJC and Creative Loafing posed the ethics question regarding the fact that an open records request has shown Mrs. Hames to have concurrent contracts to continue consulting Governor Deal’s office on education and providing strategies to Atlanta Public Schools for avoidance of being taken over by the Opportunity School District.
I will leave the personal and professional ethical questions to others to debate.
As a government affairs consultant to Grad High, a statewide charter high school that serves at-risk youth, an Atlanta school district resident, and a person who is glad to see Governor Deal try something new and bold in education reform, I have a nuanced opinion about Mrs. Hames’ concurrent contracts.
Yet what I am more concerned about is the shadow that this focus on Mrs. Hames casts over the ballot initiative to be decided by Georgia voters in November. The OSD is not a done deal. Yet, education reform is desperately needed in our state. IMHO, Mrs. Hames has long championed for the Governor the necessary education reforms, and her work is something I am grateful for and I believe has very genuine and noble roots. However, I have to question why she would wish to cast a pall over these proceedings?
Whether her contracts are a conflict of interest or not, the internal conflict she must have at this point is whether or not she is casting her career’s greatest victory (thus far) on a shaky pedestal. The fall from which, may be steep. Are either of those contracts worth the sacrifice of setting back education reform for Georgia’s children? I seriously hope not.
I have ZERO problem with Mrs. Hames making money from her expertise- that is what we all strive to do. I question whether her double dipping puts her at odds with her own ultimate goal of securing the Opportunity School District.
The optics of the issues being what they are, regardless of the practical or ethical legitimacy, should encourage Mrs. Hames to carefully consider what sacrifices may be demanded should both contracts move forward. It is my sincere hope that the OSD’s success at the ballot box is not one of those.