Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Editorial: Hyneman's gifts carry a price

Commercial Appeal

"DON'T YOU THINK he's just a nice guy?" Memphis City Council member Barbara Swearengen Holt replied when questioned about help she and other elected officials have received from developer Rusty Hyneman.

There's no question Hyneman has quite a giving streak in him, at least where certain people with the power to help him later are concerned.

As a six-week investigation by The Commercial Appeal revealed, Hyneman helped Holt get a luxury skybox seat to a Memphis Grizzlies preseason game.

Hyneman co-signed on a loan so City Council Chairman Edmund Ford could lease a $50,000 Cadillac. Hyneman also bought a $1,200 airline ticket for Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks and one of Hyneman's business partners gave Hooks an interest-free $16,000 loan.

And these are only some of the more recent examples of Hyneman's "generosity."

When Jim Rout was still county mayor, he got a free ride in Hyneman's private jet. Hyneman also helped City Councilman Rickey Peete buy a new house and rented County Commissioner Tom Moss a home when Moss needed to establish residency in his new district.

Like Holt, other elected officials who have been on the receiving end of Hyneman favors have described him as just a really good friend. The fact that his company regularly appears before the council and commission to request approval for land-use changes has nothing to do with anything, they claim.

That's just plain silly. Any elected official who believes Hyneman isn't looking for favorable treatment in return for his many acts of kindness is hopelessly naive. Those who clearly understand Hyneman's game and choose to play it anyway are corrupt.

Our community doesn't need elected officials who fit into either of those categories.

In the wake of the Tennessee Waltz undercover investigation, there has been a lot of attention on tightening the state's ethics laws.

It's clear that more work needs to be done at the local level as well. The council's ethics policy is advisory only, which means it's basically worthless.

However, council members might not know where to turn for objective legal advice on making improvements: After all, their attorney Allan Wade is also representing Hyneman in a divorce case.

Another disappointing aspect of the latest revelations about Hyneman is that the elected officials involved seem to be beyond shame.

Hooks, who was indicted in August on bribery and extortion charges, told a reporter that press coverage will only help him in his upcoming trial.

"The more y'all write, the better it gets, baby," he taunted a reporter trying to interview him about the loan he received from Hyneman business partner Henry Weaver. "And I'm going to need public opinion. ... Y'all ain't learned that yet."

Forget integrity for just a second. Don't these elected officials have any pride? Why would they even be willing to let someone think that they could be bought off with free air travel or other perks?

Sure, being an elected official probably gets lonely at times.

But those who need a friend should get a dog.

The messes would be easier to clean up.

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