Ends, Means

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(HOST) When former Fletcher Allen Health Care CEO William Boettcher recently pleaded guilty to the criminal charge of defrauding regulators about the costs of the Renaissance Project, commentator Bill Meub was reminded of the old saying that the ends never justify the means.

(MEUB) I’ve been thinking a lot about the fraud that Mr. Boettcher committed. I think his case is representative of a larger problem that is plaguing us: The failure to tell the truth and the too common belief or justification that it’s OK to manipulate the system to accomplish some objective.

The only reasonable rationalization for why Mr. Boettcher lied to regulators is that he must have thought he needed to misrepresent the true costs of the Renaissance Project because he was trying to get new facilities that he believed were needed at Fletcher Allen. But no ends, no matter how good they might be, justify misrepresenting the true facts to regulators or breaking the law. We may not like the rules or may disagree with the rules, but what makes us different is that we are a country of rules.

Fletcher Allen had the obligation to keep the regulators fully informed about the project – both the good and the bad. As costs increased, that information should have been made public. Who knows? Someone else, even a regulator, may have had a good suggestion that would have addressed the problems, which is why projects like this must face the scrutiny of others. But, even more importantly, Mr. Boettcher’s admission that he conspired to defraud a state regulatory agency hurts the credibility of all people in positions of authority.

Every time someone lies under oath and is caught, we become more cynical. It means that the next time regulators hear testimony they will be more skeptical and doubtful; investigations will have to occur and things will have to be checked out, and double checked. Frequently, new laws or rules are put in place “So this does not happen again.” Such responses create unneeded redundancy and costs.

Because of all of the people who have recently lied to us, we are filled with distrust. People do not trust politicians to tell the truth, brokers, heads of major companies or even priests and bishops. Our system must have trust to work properly. People want to trust others because that is human nature – but trust is something that is built up over time through consistent conduct. So, how do we repair trust once it has been damaged?

It seems to me that it’s going to require long-term, consistent, truthful, open conduct by everyone in positions of authority or power, while remembering that the ends do not justify the means. And it seems to me that it will also require a renewed commitment from each of us as individuals to set the example – to tell the truth ourselves and to accept nothing less from those in authority and power.

This is Bill Meub of Rutland.

Bill Meub is a trial attorney who has a long time interest in public service.

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