It can be a natural instinct to run for cover when something embarrassing happens or criticism erupts. But the better course for public servants is to step up, take the heat and accept responsibility rather than retreat into a defensive posture. Three Tampa Bay area leaders have done that in the past week under vastly different circumstances. Their decisions or explanations may not appease their critics, but their frankness is refreshing.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheenan: When the judge was arrested for driving under the influence after bar hopping in Ybor City, she did not make any excuses or hide behind a lawyer. She apologized and acknowledged her behavior sullied her profession. She sought no special treatment before her arrest or at the jail. "It was a horrible, poor choice on my part to get behind the wheel," Sheenan said. "Unfortunately, it's a very poor reflection on the judiciary and that's what is most regrettable."
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri: When an inmate suffered life-threatening injuries Saturday at the hand of another inmate in a transport van, Gualtieri relatively quickly disclosed significant details about what happened, including the role of the van driver, who is an employee of a private vendor. The sheriff also recently began posting all completed internal affairs reports online.
Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman: After a charity he helps lead, Start Right, Now, came under fire for sometimes suing former clients — among them troubled or homeless teenagers — for large sums of money, Silverman wrote a column in the Tampa Bay Times to tell the public the group is changing its policies. "Community support and involvement are essential to the success of Starting Right, Now, and the discussion and input generated by these news stories has been valuable," Silverman wrote.
Everything always doesn't go as smoothly as expected. Here are three examples of how to accept responsibility and build public trust rather than hide behind excuses and make bad situations worse.