Got a minute to take a multiple-choice test?
Just so you know, this is not a pass-or-fail situation. There isn't even a right-or-wrong consensus on the answers.
I'll tell you what those involved chose to do, and at the end of the column I'll tell you what I would have done. The rest is up to you to decide.
1. You are a veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol. You stop a car for speeding on the interstate outside of Tallahassee and discover the driver is a state legislator. You call your supervisor on the radio for guidance and discuss what you say is FHP's unofficial policy of leniency for lawmakers. Do you:
A. Stick to the letter of the law and issue him a $250 speeding ticket?
B. Offer a break on the speeding ticket, and instead write a $10 citation for failure to have proof of insurance even though the driver offers to show you his insurance card?
C. Simply give him a warning and send him on his way?
Trooper Charles Swindle chose B.
2. You are a member of the Florida House heading to Tallahassee for your swearing-in ceremony when you are pulled over by a state trooper. He says you were clocked at 87 mph in a 70 mph zone. You swear your cruise control was set at 75. Do you:
A. Gratefully accept his offer of a $10 citation instead of a $250 ticket?
B. Insist on being issued a speeding ticket since you have acknowledged your cruise control was set above the speed limit?
C. Take the $10 citation and then write a letter complaining to FHP officials?
Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, chose C.
3. You are in charge of the state department that oversees FHP. You discover one of your troopers has written phony $10 citations instead of speeding tickets. The trooper's defense is that the agency has an unofficial policy of offering breaks to lawmakers, and at least two other troopers acknowledge the policy has long existed. Do you:
A. Claim there is no unofficial policy and fire the trooper?
B. Say the trooper was misguided and suspend or demote him?
C. Admit the policy seemed to exist in some FHP circles, and promise to squash it while disciplining the trooper involved.
Executive director Julie Jones chose A.
Swindle was wrong, McBurney was a weenie and Jones lacked either courage, intelligence, fairness or some combination of all three.
To start with, if you don't think there was an unofficial policy, this is probably a good time for you to come in from the pumpkin patch.
Even Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell, who attended a hearing where Swindle is trying to get his job back, pretty much told reporters that this sort of thing is common practice. That certainly doesn't make the policy right, but it suggests Jones and the FHP are brazenly throwing one of their own under a bus to avoid bad publicity.
So was Swindle wrong for writing a fake citation? Yup. It foolishly left a paper trail of the agency's wink-wink policy. But as far as mistakes go, this gaffe seems neither malicious nor egregious.
If you're looking for questionable judgment and abuse of power, I see a couple of candidates in this story. And neither of them lost their jobs.