No Room for Crooks Here

for the week of March 4, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

Stan Edmunds inspects houses for a living. He is the fellow whose official scrutiny of foundation, roof, and all things in between is customary to most sales agreements. His job is to find hidden problems in houses that are being sold.

On January 29, 2002, Edmunds was inspecting a property in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. The potential buyer and real estate agent Lewis Major were there, and things were going rather routinely. In order to get to the attic, he had to go through a closet. It was there that something caught his eye. It was a wooden shelf support, but it somehow looked curious to Edmunds' trained eye.

"I tugged on it," said Edmunds, "and it came out. It was a drawer." Inside it were just some old papers and four bank deposit bags.

Edmunds unzipped a bag and found several $100 bills. He opened a second bag, and there were still more $100 bills. He didn't bother unzipping the third or fourth. He called out to the property agent. "He had us come in and get it. He didn't want anything to do with it," said Major. "He could just as well have put it in his pocket." Major in turn got in touch with the attorney of record for the estate of the previous owner. The grand total in the drawer was right at $20,000.

Heirs to the estate have since divided the bonanza turned up by the honest inspector. One of them sent Edmunds a whopping $50 reward which he immediately said would go to a charity. When asked if it crossed his mind to take the money, he said he never even thought about it. "That's the nature of my business," he said. "You're in people's houses. There's no room for crooks there."

Come to think of it, just where is there room for crooks? Only in jails, one could hope! But occasional events like the Enron debacle expose dishonest souls as corporate executives, accountants, and stock analysts. I have no doubt that what has begun unfolding from Houston will produce helpful integrity initiatives.

As someone who teaches ethics and who occasionally assists in corporate training in ethics, I have an opinion about company codes of ethics and similar integrity strategies. They are maps for sailing, at best. The final disposition will always be in the hands of the sailors on deck. There is no ethics manual that will ever be worth a Stan Edmunds. People with good character make the difference.

Your task this week is not so much to find those people for your company or committee, family or church. It is to be such a person every day.

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