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Packwood Hearings Must Be In The Open

You be the boss.

You’ve got this guy in your office who’s smart, hard-working, liked by just about everybody. Trouble is: He sometimes drinks too much and then likes to corner women and stick his tongue down their throats. He’s a leg-stroker, a crotch-grabber, an elevator-masher.

Or at least he was. Much of this stuff happened years ago when a not-so-enlightened workplace atmosphere prevailed. The guy swears he’s off the sauce now and has stopped his caveman behavior.

Here’s your dilemma: Do you can him? Or do you slap his wrist, hard, and urge him to sin no more, thereby saving the man’s job and his needed skills?

That’s the dilemma facing the U.S. Senate right now.

Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., has a date in coming months with the Senate Ethics Committee. That committee announced last week that substantial, credible evidence exists that “Sen. Packwood may have abused his United States Senate office by engaging in a pattern of sexual misconduct” over a 20-year period.

It has taken committee staffers since 1993 to reach this conclusion. Better late than never, we suppose. They’ve taken testimony from more than 260 witnesses and reviewed 16,000 pages of documents.

If Packwood is found guilty, his punishment could range from a formal rebuke to expulsion from the Senate.

Let the hearings begin. Soon. And please, senators, hold them in the open.

If the hearings occur behind closed doors, it could be a disastrous public relations move for a Republican Senate that claims to be hot for family values. Groping women employees is not a family value, last time we checked.

Also, open hearings would send a very public message that the workplace is no longer the arena for power plays that involve sexually aggressive acts. Work is where you go to work. Period.

Public hearings can be powerful agents of change. Sen. Joe McCarthy’s paranoia unraveled during his 1950s hearings on communism. The Watergate hearings in the early 1970s exposed what happens when secrecy and distrust permeate a White House.

The Packwood hearings might spell the end of the era that allowed smart, powerful men (and some women) to get drunk on booze and power and push the limits. The hearings also should send a message to employees that a guy (or gal) might be your boss, might be your senator, but that person still must behave like a decent human being at work. Now that’s a family value from way back.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.