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Bill Kennedy: What’s the cost of honor?

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: February 25, 2010 9:39 p.m.
Updated: February 26, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
"Sir, are you listening to the radio?"

Catching me at home at 6:45 a.m. as I was preparing to leave for my job as base commander of Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, I knew instantly this was not an idle inquiry from my executive officer.

"You need to tune in," he continued, "because Perry and Price are raking you over the coals."

Michael Perry and Larry Price were renowned co-hosts of a top-rated morning radio talk show in Hawaii. Both were highly skilled entertainers who knew how to rouse listeners to a fever pitch, aided by Perry's training in psychology.

That I was the object of their show was (more than a little) discomforting, so I quickly tuned my radio on.

I listened in amazement as several callers in a row, none of whom I knew, described me in the most unflattering terms.

"Well," said a caller, "we now know that the new commander at Hickam has a mean streak and is bigoted against females."

"Yes," replied one of the co-hosts, "what a heartless soul he must be to deny Girl Scouts permission to sell cookies on the base."

My thoughts turned to a meeting I had days before with members of the Girl Scout council seeking approval for their scouts to sell on the base. I agreed, but requested the scouts have adult supervision while selling door-to-door.

The scout leaders pushed back, claiming a lack of non-working parents to supervise the girls.

"Then the girls can sell from kiosks." I replied, "which we will build at high-traffic public areas such as the Base Exchange and the Commissary with a guarantee they will sell their full quota."

Again, the scout leaders demurred, stating that having willing customers approach the kiosks would deny the scouts a more challenging selling experience.

What the scout leaders did not know, and what I was advised by legal counsel to conceal, was that several known sexual offenders resided in the relatively small base housing complex. I simply wanted to protect the girls from the predators.

Meanwhile, I continued to be vilified on the radio. Even people normally of better sense bought in to the farcical pretense of the show, and calls began pouring in to my office - one from the wife of a three-star admiral at nearby Pearl Harbor Navy Base, who described the stories of my "despicable" actions as the low point of her entire military life.

Another was from my four-star boss who demanded I immediately end the "firestorm" by pleading guilty and issuing a public apology so we could "get the turmoil behind us as quickly as possible." After some negotiation, we agreed to take a different course.

Fast forward some twenty years and we have a similar imbroglio involving Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar. By now, everyone likely knows the story - an ill-advised choice of words Kellar used to defend his patriotism has been used by critics wrongly to accuse him of being a racist.

Anyone who knows Kellar and who gauges him by his actions knows the allegations to be false, including, no doubt, most of his detractors.

However, that knowledge does not deter them from the relentless pursuit of their baseless accusations. Why? Likely because clever activists are aware that meek, innocent people who have a low tolerance for discomfort or guilt-ridden angst are likely to compromise their principles to bring a quick end to controversy.

For the unprincipled activists, the opportunity for an easy, unearned victory is simply too tempting to avoid.

Before you form a judgment on Kellar's situation, please ask yourself the following questions: Who has committed the greater transgression - Kellar for his slip of the tongue, or his attackers, who are resorting to shameful emotional extortion?

What will be the long-term effects of acceding to the detractors' call for an apology - will it be more likely or less likely to precipitate similar attacks on others in the future?

Finally, what price are we willing to place on one's honor?

The answers will bring clarity to this issue - Right Here, Right Now.

Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting. He serves the community as a planning commissioner and chairman of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp., and is a member of the following boards: SCV Chamber of Commerce, Valley Industrial Association, College of the Canyons Foundation and Habitat for Humanity SF/SCV. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of these organizations or those of The Signal. Contact him at wkennedy@wingspanbusiness.com.

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