News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 20, 2013

EDITORIAL: Thomas right to withdraw from Carter-Walkup probe

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The issue of ethics in the public sphere is ever-present, even though it sometimes flies under the proverbial radar. Its importance, however, should never be underestimated.

We call your attention to one of the recent scandals in state government (yes, there have been several) involving people with local connections.

To recap: Retired Sullivan businessman Bruce Walkup, while serving on the statewide board of directors of Ivy Tech Community College, repeatedly sent crass, vulgar and inappropriate emails to Ivy Tech administrator and state government officials. The situation was exposed in a story in the Indianapolis Star.

The emails also indicated that Walkup may have received preferential treatment on a duck hunting request at the Goose Pond recreation area in Greene County from Rob Carter, who until recently was director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

What’s more, the Star story disclosed email exchanges between Carter and Walkup in which Walkup stated that Carter would be the next security director for Ivy Tech, even though that position would not come open for several months. Carter was eventually chosen and left the DNR for the Ivy Tech job.

Following the disclosures, Walkup quickly resigned his board post. But Gov. Mike Pence asked Inspector General David Thomas to investigate potential ethics breaches concerning the hunting trip and Carter’s hiring.

But then the ethics web widened.

Carter was Clay County sheriff before being tabbed as head of the DNR. And Thomas, the man directed to investigate Carter, was Clay County prosecutor before his appointment as inspector general. Both were members of the same political party and served in Clay County at the same time. They were friends and political allies.

After Pence asked the inspector general to investigate the situation, we suggested in this space that Thomas not be involved in the probe. We’re pleased to see he agrees.

In recusing himself, Thomas acknowledged a “friendly relationship” with Carter for more than 20 years. “This relationship makes an objective review of the allegations difficult if not impossible,” Thomas wrote in a letter announcing he would step aside. “Under these circumstances, any associated decisions could make the determinations to appear suspect.”

To his credit, Thomas appointed a special prosecutor from Posey County to investigate the matter.

The Walkup-Carter relationship already raises concerns that a good-ol’-boy network of favors and preferential treatment may have been at work. Whether that’s reality or a mere appearance of conflict remains to be seen. But Thomas withdrawing from the probe ensured that matters did not become complicated further.

In ethical matters, such connections matter. By withdrawing, Thomas did the right thing.