Fields did it the right way

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2008

Coal Grove clerk-treasurer Debbie Fields has been exonerated of any wrongdoing by an independent review for her use of a Sam’s Club credit card.

The review revealed the village never had its own credit card with Sam’s Club, but rather a business membership that was available to village employees who would use their own funds to pay for purchases.

From that membership, Fields was extended a personal line of credit. After a late payment, she recognized it was affiliated with the village because of her original membership. To her credit, she came forward and made village officials aware that it could look improper.

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“While she was going through the (checkout) line, Debbie told us this, they said, ‘You are eligible for a personal line of credit, would you like to do that?’” said Councilman Nick Miller. “That is how she started a personal line of credit. She continued to use the personal line of credit until the late payment occurred. … For some reason, it slipped her mind. She was late on a payment and that is how it all started.”

The lesson in this, as is often the case, is that judgments that are made in these circumstances before all the information is known are dangerous. Particularly for elected officials who often get caught up in politics by those who oppose them, it’s important to let the water clear a bit to see the full picture.

Media reports of investigations are routine and the microscope is immediately placed on those who are involved in them. The public expects transparency from government entities in such cases so it is clear the matter has been reviewed thoroughly and accurately.

And although Fields could have been more forthcoming with the media to clarify it was a membership and not an account, she did what was expected of her by revealing what she thought could be perceived as an impropriety. The village then investigated the matter and it became clear there were no public dollars at stake.