It's not just personal

Our view: Relationship with a developer deserves scrutiny

June 26, 2008

Business relationships often become personal. But when the relationship involves the public's business, mixing business with pleasure is fraught with problems. Such relationships test ethical and legal boundaries, raise suspicions about the motivations of public employees and cast doubt on the integrity of how government business gets done. They are potential minefields.

These days, with state prosecutors combing through her closets, scrutinizing her social calendar and investigating past dealings with developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, Mayor Sheila Dixon is crossing that metaphorical minefield, publicly and embarrassingly. She's an example of how not to conduct your social life when you're an elected official who's dating.

From subpoenas and other documents reviewed by The Sun, it appears that state prosecutors have been focused on time Ms. Dixon spent with Mr. Lipscomb while she was City Council president. That included shared excursions to New York, Boston and Chicago (and expensive shopping in the Windy City) and pricey gifts from him to her.

Since investigators raided the mayor's home, Ms. Dixon has publicly acknowledged a personal relationship with Mr. Lipscomb in 2003 and 2004. Ms. Dixon, who has held elected office for 22 years, wasn't a political novice then, and to say she should have known better is to state the obvious. When her relationship with the well-known, politically active developer veered into the personal, she should have disclosed it when appropriate under city ethics laws and recused herself from any decisions involving his business dealings with the city, directly or indirectly. There's no excuse for not adhering to those basic precepts of good government.

Details of the investigation have prompted the predictable comparisons to another single woman in another big city whose passion for shoes has become downright cliched. The issue here isn't whether Ms. Dixon chooses to spend her city salary on deliriously expensive designer shoes (she's entitled to that) or with whom she spends her weekends. But a relationship becomes the public's business and cause for serious concern when it potentially affects her conduct in office and impugns the trust citizens place in government.

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