Why the Tour de France is Better than DC City Government

One hesitates, in these days, to hold up professional cycling as a moral exemplar. For years, allegations of steroid use have dogged the sport. The vaunted Tour de France and its yellow jersey have taken on the odor of corruption of late and watching it has felt a little bit like watching professional bodybuilding, or some eastern European gymnasts from the cold war days — you don’t feel like the athletes are really quite human, but are instead dope cocktails with legs.

Why, then, might we praise cycling? Why, when Tour winner Floyd Landis has tested positive for synthetic testosterone and still claims that it was made by his “organism?” Why, when even before this year’s running of the Tour a number of cycling favorites were disqualified because of visits to Dr. Dope?

Because at least its institutions are doing what they are supposed to. The race banned the doping cyclists. Landis’ team, Phonak, gave him the boot, a summary dismissal. They didn’t circle the wagons. Landis hasn’t yet lost the yellow jersey, as he has appeals left. It is to his former team’s credit that they didn’t hide behind smokescreens of legality: they moved immediately, “without notice for violating the team’s internal Code of Ethics.”

The Tour de France and Phonak are in stark contrast to the city government of our nation’s capital, which appears to be engaged in strategic denial, hoping a small problem will just go away. Unfortunately, in this case, lives are at stake.

The matter concerns the lives of some two thousand mentally challenged wards of Washington, D.C. It seems that investigative reports on their deaths were altered by city officials so as to make them seem less damaging. A court monitor got wind of the problems in June and spent the last few months checking “published” reports against the originals. One report was altered to remove a complaint that the case manager had only visited the person once in the past eight years. Others outlined concerns over autopsy proceedings, or complained of delays in receiving approval for medical care.

But, unlike Floyd Landis’ cycling team, who publicly fired him because he failed his drug tests, the city of Washington, D.C. is keeping mum. It has said, according to The Washington Post, that “the death reports are edited to ensure quality and to correct typographical and grammar errors — not to alter any findings.” They neither confirm nor deny that the person responsible still works for the city, and, if he or she does, they only say that “steps will be taken to guard against such deletions in the future.” A spokesperson for the city’s attorney general helpfully goes on to say, “The District doesn’t want employees to be in the habit of providing misleading or wholly inaccurate information.”

Well, bravo. Who can disagree that city employees ought not habitually lie? I can get on that bandwagon. Maybe we can also institute a “no mass murder” rule, or “no repeated theft.”

Meanwhile, I look with renewed respect to the world’s professional cycling organizations, who, when confronted with an employee doing wrong, seem at least to know what to do.

You fire the person, and you do what you can to make sure it never happens again.

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