Charges will not be pursued against Ward Stone, the former head pathologist of New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation who was accused last year of mis-use of taxpayer dollars, taking up residence at the DEC, inappropriate use of state vehicles, abuse of underlings, and various other trespasses which would have landed most other public servants in jail.

The reasoning is likely because Stone, who retired in 2010, has since had four strokes and is currently in the hospital. Pursuing further action would be moot and likely cost the State even more money and resources. He’s already abused and wasted enough of our taxpayer dollars.

What bothered me, though, were those that came to his support and claimed that the charges shouldn’t have been pursued because of the stances he took.

From James Odato of the Times Union:

More than 80 fans of former state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone put their names on a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urging him to disregard a referral from the inspector general’s office concerning the IG’s findings of years of improper behavior by the now-retired Department of Environmental Conservation veteran. The April 9 letter, describing Stone as the state’s “environmental superman,” was signed by representatives of a host of groups, including the Sierra Club, Save The Pine Bush, Dyken Pond Environmental Center, Occupy Albany, Frack Free Catskills and Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, and Albany County Legislator Doug Bullock and nature columnist Carol Coogan, plus four of Stone’s children and their mother. The missive was unnecessary, however, because Schneiderman had decided not to pursue a case against Stone not long after the IG sent him its highly critical findings, according to the AG’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Givner. “Upon reviewing the IG’s report in February, the Office of the Attorney General declined to pursue the matter further,” she said when asked for a response to the letter. She had no more comment


I’ll reiterate my  initial reaction to the allegations, which hold even stronger now that this has all been put to bed:

I won’t ask if the ends justify the means, since the issue at hand is a bit more complicated than that, but I worry that too many people are eager to put the personality before the principles and use this as an indictment against those involved in the environmental movement and, on a much larger scale, any of those who view environmental conservation as a priority for the State.

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t let this discourage those that are in a position to do some good. If anything, it should encourage more people within the system to take a stand when the State and its leaders are in the wrong. I mean, Hell, Ward Stone did it and yet he still got away with living at work, abusing subordinates, and shooting poor defenseless woodland creatures. What’s the worst they can do to you?

So, State officials and administrators, I urge you: be more like Ward Stone was to the public for so many years. Just don’t be like Ward Stone was to everyone else.

Shame on those who signed the letter knowing Ward was guilty of all he was accused of (and more). Actually, I’ll go further and state that all should be ashamed, because that letter specifically states that it was okay for Ward to have stolen from the State and its taxpayers simply because he felt he was owed more.

Part of being an adult and a decent human being is accepting responsibility when you have betrayed the trust of others, knowingly did wrong, and/or erred in an egregious manner. Nobody’s perfect, but a good deed does not absolve the individual of bad deeds, and it certainly does not provide just cause for committing wrong.

The sort of justification Stone’s supporters imply is not only logically and ethically unsound (do they really think there aren’t other people out there like Ward Stone who could have done what he did without his gross transgressions?), it’s potentially dangerous.

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2 Responses to Ward Stone and the Erosion of Personal Responsibility

  1. aclegg says:

    Mr. Marshall,

    I write in response to your blog post “Ward Stone and the Erosion of Personal Responsibility.”  The allegations against Dr. Stone are serious, and reasonable people can disagree on how they should be handled.  I am responding to your characterization of Dr. Stone’s supporters.  You write “shame on those who signed the letter” in support of Dr. Stone, that this show of support is “gross,” and that a “good deed … does not provide just cause for committing wrong.”  I disagree with your premise and conclusions.  Your characterization of Dr. Stone’s supporters is unfair and poorly considered, particularly given your broad attacks on their integrity and credibility.

    Your claim that a “good deed … does not provide just cause for committing wrong” is extraordinary.  As a society, we frequently take an individual’s “good deeds” into account when considering whether, and to what extent, that individual should be punished for wrongdoing.  Judges make these determinations in sentencing, prosecutors do so when making charging decisions, and most of us do so in our daily lives.  Rather than asking “should good deeds completely excuse wrongdoing?” a reasonable inquiry requires a series of balancing determinations.  How much do we value the person’s good deeds?  How much do we condemn the wrongdoing? Were the good deeds related to the wrongdoing?  What societal message are we sending by excusing wrongdoing?  What message from ignoring the mitigation of good deeds?  Reasonable people will have different answers to these questions in different contexts.  They will consider different values.  However, your simple formulation of “a good deed … does not provide just cause for committing wrong” cuts short these useful, illuminating inquiries in favor of a blunt and easy conclusion.  In this case, your conclusion is that Stone’s supporters argument, that Stone should not be charged, is “ethically unsound.”

    Further, you conclude that the supporters cannot believe “there aren’t other people out there like Ward Stone who could have done what he did without his gross transgressions”.  You seem to be assigning the following argument to the supporters — only a person with Stone’s faults could have produced the societal benefits he did, therefore we must accept and condone those faults if we desire the benefits.  Having saddled your opponents with this ridiculous and extreme position, you go on to question their credibility (“do they really think?”).  But why must the supporters believe this? They do not need to go nearly this far, and why would they?  They seem to be arguing that we should take Stone’s achievements into consideration when deciding how to punish him.  They think his achievements are great, and that the wrongdoing was relatively minor.  Weighing achievements against the wrongdoing, they conclude that Stone should not be charged.  This more modest and reasonable argument withstands the existence of your hypothetical superior Wildlife Pathologist.

    Finally, you write that the supporters’ “letter specifically states that it was okay for Ward to have stolen
    from the State and its taxpayers simply because he felt he was owed
    more.”  I could not find a copy of the supporters’ letter, but the James Odato article you link to does not include this assertion.  Rather, the article’s excerpt states “the boundary between work and personal life became so blurred that he
    was virtually living at his office. But his motivation had nothing to do
    with the freeloading that the charges imply.”  The supporters’ letter argues that Stone spent long hours at his office because he was working a lot.  There may be reasons to doubt this characterization, and you might have justifiably questioned it.  However, “was at the office to work” is not the same as “stole housing because he felt entitled.”  Yours is not a fair characterization of the supporters’ claim.  Reasonably attacking the supporters’ actual position is much more effective, and more honest, than substantively altering it to bolster your argument.

    We can reasonably disagree with the supporters’ argument.  We can argue that Stone’s achievements were sleight, or at least not substantial enough.  We can argue that his offenses were particularly egregious.  We can argue that because Stone was a public servant, excusing his wrongdoing would broadcast bad incentives for other state workers.  These arguments are sensible, and might have provoked productive exchange with Dr. Stone’s supporters. You sometimes come close to these arguments, but veer away when you needlessly and summarily attack the supporters’ integrity (“gross, “shame”, “potentially dangerous”).  These attacks do nothing to advance reasonable discussion or explore the important issues raised by Stone’s case.  Rather, they shortcut mundane but critical factual inquiries into: 1) the Inspector General’s allegations; and 2) Stone’s environmental contributions as Wildlife Pathologist.  You skip these inquiries in favor of a broad and summary condemnation of the supporters’  position as “ethically unsound” and “potentially dangerous.” I urge you to be more thoughtful and careful when making these types of serious attacks.


    Andy Clegg

    • kevinmarshall says:

      Thanks for writing, because it only further bolsters and supports my assertion that those who wrote in support of Stone and continue to support him are acting like deluded, partisan sycophants whose ideology has completely overwhelmed all ability to rationalize, criticize, and condemn when one of their own does something wrong. It is not unfair to suggest that they are defending wrongdoing, because they are.

      The supporters’ letter argues that Stone spent long hours at his office because he was working a lot.  There may be reasons to doubt this characterization, and you might have justifiably questioned it.

      The reasons to doubt this characterization are because of the facts of the case, which extend beyond simply that report and Odato’s article. Stone stole from the State, pure and simple. Your attempt at waxing poetic on the sliding scale of morality is noble, but out of place and wholly irrelevant to the matter at hand. The justifications, both literally stated and alluded to, are a fiction. His theft wasn’t crucial to his job or the cause. If you would like to make the argument that Stone may have had some mental issues that contributed to this, then fine, but I can’t and won’t allow you and others to say that it’s okay for a state employee to abuse his position, power, and funds granted to him by the people just because you think he was on the right side of an issue.

      ” I urge you to be more thoughtful and careful when making these types of serious attacks.”

      And I urge you to think, period. Critically or otherwise.  Because of his ego and carelessness, all others in his position and especially those who could do some good will now be under an intense microscope. They will be more limited in their resources and inundated with bureaucratic nonsense that will hamper their ability to do good. There is also a point to be made on a larger scale: that in this era of slash and burn, we need more than ever to be careful that we don’t lose those things in government spending that benefit society as a whole.

      In short, Ward Stone completely fucked you and the cause as a whole, and you keep writing love letters about him. Awful.

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