Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

August 28, 2012

Due diligence and "stumping the chump"


Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Dear Editor,

In my letter last week, I stated the focus of the recent public airport expansion meeting "should have been about developing a regional airport facility where all who will benefit, will also pay a share of monetary support.

I allege by their doing, elected and appointed officials are positioning Greensburg's taxpayers to wrongfully bear a financial burden for others." This letter is to address how it is that public officials have failed to use due diligence in applying their fiduciary duty on behalf of the people.

Let's begin by affixing a meaning for due diligence. It is the process of evaluating a prospective business decision, as a buyer spends time going through the financial situation of a prospective acquired business, its legal obligations, customer records, and other documents. The buyer wants to validate his or her opinion to see if it is truly a good decision.

Next, let's apply a meaning for "fiduciary duty." The fiduciary is one that another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money. The fiduciary accepts an obligation to act for the other's benefit. The duties of a fiduciary include loyalty and reasonable care of assets within custody. All of the fiduciary's actions are performed for the advantage of the beneficiary.

In that a big deal was made by pro-expansion proponents of the airport's environmental assessment, it is but an indicator as to whether the project can be accomplished and we can be good guardians of God's green Earth. The unfinished task was an economic assessment to indicate whether to proceed with expansion in accordance of ability to provide financial support.

The pro-expansion set speaks a language of "jobs, jobs, jobs" and economic prosperity, without validity. It acts as though certain things can remain unmentioned, and its just too bad for the public.

That game is called "stump the chump" and shame on these officials for playing it. Even more shame upon them for forcing things to the point that their duty must be spelled in simplistic terms. "Due diligence in applying fiduciary duty" is the inherent promise one makes when running for public office and is also inherent when any are appointed to a public position. It is expected in social contract by the people on Election Day.

One might wonder what are the fiduciary options. Consider that two types of decisions stand at odds. The first is outcome-based and the second is process-based. City government officials have employed the former in that they have set a goal (airport expansion) and all that is encompassed in the project is aimed at goal attainment (outcome).

In short, the object is to hammer away until we "git 'er done." Outcome-base decision making is flawed because it sets project completion as the goal, without giving environmental and economic considerations their full weight.

Process-based decision making is what opponents of airport expansion have advocated. It asks that a valid process be followed to arrive at a decision that best serves the public interest. It is the better option because it sets the public's best interest as the goal. In applying due diligence in the environmental assessment, the concern is whether alterations made to the Earth are excessively invasive. Due diligence in an economic assessment asks whether the project is cost effective in terms of the supposed benefits that are to be derived.

Fiduciary duty in process-based decision making means the outcome is contingent on the answers to the questions. For example, if alterations to the Earth are excessive, then the decision to proceed on environmental grounds is nullified and the decision is "just" because it serves in the public's best interest.  The same reasoning applies when considering if the project isn't cost effective in terms of the supposed benefits that are to be derived. The project could as well be environmentally "just" but economically "unjust," or vice-versa.

What if the project is both environmentally and economically "just?" Process-based decision making doesn't discriminate. The project proceeds with a stamp of approval because it too, serves in the public's best interest.

Having determined what are fiduciary options, then what enabled the path that public officials took?

Have you ever heard of the Abileen paradox?

Its the kind of thing that happens in politically correct situations where outcome-based decision making is used. Everyone just goes along, to

get along.

To make a long story short, four people agree to eat dinner in another town on a hot Texas afternoon. The trip consumes four hours. The food wasn't good and they return, hot and exhausted.

Then to their discovery, they admit it was a trip that nobody wanted but that all had agreed because each thought it was good for the group, and nobody wanted to offend. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon. The Abileen

paradox is a form of groupthink explained by social psychology theories of conformity which suggest that human beings are often very averse to acting contrary to the trend of the group.

Jeff Martin, Whiteland