As described in another post, a conflict of interest is not inherently unethical or even problematic. It can be prevented by disclosing the conflict and its impact minimized by withdrawing from any related decisions. Conflicts of interest become problematic when the person does not disclose it or, worse still, seeks to conceal it, as Ratliff has. Conflicts that result in clear financial gain are the most problematic, especially if these evolve into influence-peddling - for example, a “deal” to hire a relative in return for favorable treatment.
Even without evidence of a “deal” to hire his wife, Ratliff’s documented attempts to minimize or conceal his conflicts of interest create a management nightmare for his supervisors, resulting in collateral damage that is far greater than one or two conflicts of interest. How?
This episode demonstrates Ratliff’s willingness to mislead or even lie to the public or his supervisors about important issues. This means that Township Supervisors must now consider whether Ratliff has ever lied about other issues. This calls into question every recommendation made and action taken by Ratliff in the past, and going forward.
This makes it more likely that Ratliff may have other conflicts of interest, or that Ratliff will turn a blind eye to conflicts of interest involving other Township partners. Township Supervisors must now actively monitor for other conflicts of interest, and carefully consider whether other interests are influencing important decisions and recommendations.
Supervisors have already learned from Lisa Moore that the collateral damage of unethical behavior can take its own toll. In Moore’s case, Supervisors not only lost $3.2 million, but spent two years re-building the financial controls Lisa had ravaged. In this case, Ratliff’s efforts to “solve” our Fire-EMS problems by giving Longwood Fire a deal drew our attention away from the real issue: a worsening pattern of deficit spending that leaves the sustainability of our Fire/EMS services in doubt.
Tracking down other lies, conflicts of interest, and other neglected problems takes time, energy, and resources that could all be better spent on REAL problems. How many opportunities to improve life in the township were lost as Supervisors dug out from under the collapse of Lisa Moore?
The collateral damage is likely to continue to accumulate as long as Ratliff remains manager, and may well equal or eclipse any benefits Ratliff’s skills might bring to Kennett.
This is why it is so important to act decisively when a public employee or official seeks to mislead you. The lie you uncover is only the start of your problems - it just tells you where to start digging. What you uncover may well be far, farworse.