A huge photo of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl consumed about 80% of the above-the-fold space on the front page of today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It accompanied an article describing the mini-scandal in which Ravenstahl is embroiled.
Golfing with city suppliers.
Yes, Ravenstahl accepted two days of golf in the Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational from UPMC and the Pittsburgh Penguins valued at $9,000 (the article wasn’t clear if that was $9k per day or $9k total). Because the city does business with each and each depends on the city for various approvals, Ravenstahl’s acceptance is viewed as a potentially big ethical violation.
Ravenstahl’s defense? The city’s ethics code which, according to the article, states that “[charitable] outings are exempted from a code limit stating city officials may only accept admission to cultural or athletic events valued at $250 or less per year, or worth $100 from a single person or organization.” The Lemieux Invitational does indeed benefit a charity.
But Ravenstahl’s “but-mommy-said-it-was-OK” defense isn’t exactly making him look real sharp right now.
When I teach conflict of interest in purchasing, I always caution my students to avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest. Even if certain activities with suppliers may not bias your decision-making, others may have the perception that they do. And that can be just as harmful to your internal influence as a real conflict of interest.
That perception certainly has made Ravenstahl sweat in the past few days as he has gone before the city’s ethics committee.
Certainly getting invited to play golf, go to a sporting event, or have lunch is not uncommon for you as a buyer. So, whether you run the risk of going before your company’s equivalent of the ethics committee or whether you’ll just have your internal customers grumbling behind your back, it is always best to scrutinize your interactions with suppliers. Be aware that how much time you spend, who pays, and how much fun you have all can have an effect on how you are perceived in your organization.
And, perception in purchasing, is more important than ever. Think about the consequences before your accept an invitation from a supplier.
Even if the “rules” say it’s OK.