Richard Haddad, the newly-appointed head of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's newly formed Ethics Committee, kept looking around the gleam conference table and imploring, "But what is the problem? What are we trying to solve with this?"
The problem, as Haddad and the other seven participants were informed by the man who called the meeting, newly-appointed WSSC Commissioner David R. Scotton, was the development of a new employee code of ethics fort he controversial agency, which has been rocked by indictments and reports of insider favoritism and hiring practices.
Though those events and harges were on the mind of at least Scotton, no direct mention of what has befallen the public agency, which controls sewer construction in the Maryland suburbs, was ever made at the meeting.
Instead, suggestions for the new code, which would supercede a 1974 employee bill of rights and a 1972 code of ethics, included rules regarding the acceptance of "a box of candy or a six-pack of beer from a contractor," as well as a gentle hint to employee not to wear blue jean to work.
Johanna Norris, chairman of the six-member governing commission, wanted to know if the proposed code "could do anything about hallway goddip? . . . Does anyone ever assess how much time is wasted in gossip?" she asked.
Walter Klein from the project planning department, suggested one part of the code might read, "I shall betruthful in my dealings with others."
Chairman Norris thought another section might go something like, "'While honest differences may develop, I will work harmoniously with the public'"
WSSC Commissioner Vera Berkman thought the problem could be solved if "we . . . publish the 10 Commandments."
General Counsel Paul T Sisson agreed that the 10 Commandments "are the best rules of morality ever written."
"i suddenly find I'm chairing a moral crusade," said Haddad, who is head of the WSSC's personnel section. "i just don't want to be writing papmphelts on morality . . . I still don't know what the problem is. It's as if we should have a code of ethics because we should have a code of ethics," he said.
Commissioner Scotton, who convened the meeting, said afterwards that "the WSSC is embarking on a whole new era. We are going to have a new general manager in a few weeks, and we should have a whole new atmosphere . . . in which he can feel comfortable."
The agency's former general manager, Robert J. McLeod, retired on Dec. 31, and a search has been on since then to replace him. McLeod had first announced his intention to retire shortly after a Montgomery County grand jury handed up its indictments and his retirement.
"The general feeling of the public is that this agency does not have a good image," Scotton said at the meeting. "When I walk into a (community) meeting you can feel the hostility, they don't trust me . . . i don't make any bones about the past, (but) when I walked out they know they can call em," he said.
General Counsel Sisson said the agency actually had a good image. "People like us. The image problem is created by the media," he said.
Commissioners Scotton, Berkman, and Andrew M. Vislosky disagreed ciolently with his assessment. "You should go out with us," Vislosky said, speaking at the same time as Berkman. "You have no idea of the anger we encounter," Berman said.
"if image is our problem, than a code of ethics won't solve it," sighed Haddad, who had volunteered to head the committee, which also includes acting general manager John Brusnighan and Robert Haven, head of the design department.
Scotton asked each of the committee members to get employee suggestions from their departments for the new code. "We want suggestions regarding ethics to come from the bottom of the agency up, rather than be sent from the top down," he said.