Did you see today's headline in the Roanoke Times? I am sure Democrat turned Independent Councilman Alfred Dowe got a sinking feeling in his stomach when he opened his door this morning. There he found a front page article detailing the use of his City issued credit card. It's not a flattering article. Dowe was responsible for spending nearly one half of all the money spent by Council Members. And there are 7 in total. For a politician, it's got to be one of the worst types of articles. Because it's not about your position on an issue or a vote you took. It's about you personally.
I have meet Dowe once or twice but I don't know him. So I can't say one way or the other if the spending is ethical. Let's assume he didn't do anything unethical or illegal. It still looks bad. Just because you can take trips out of town doesn't mean you should. Just because you can pay for lunches where you are talking City business doesn't mean you should. Every now and then, fine. But not all the time.
As many of you know, I worked for Senator Brandon Bell for four years. Legislators don't have expense accounts per say, but the State offers to pay for them to travel to legislative conferences in sunny places like California and Florida. These are similar to the conferences Dowe attended in New Orleans and Washington. Brandon never attended the first one. While completely ethical, Brandon was always very sensitive to this issue. He never wanted to give the sense of impropriety. Again, just because the perk is offered doesn't mean you should take it.
I know many of our elected officials are not wealthy people. And the cost of serving the public can be substantial. It's OK to use City funds to pay for some of your expenses. But when you are outspending your fellow Council members by at least three to one, you need to look at some other options. Elected officials have the option of using their privately raised campaign funds. Or they can spend some of their own money.
Dowe probably didn't act unethically. He just used poor judgment.