Change Starts Here


In the past day I’ve seen at least three news stories in which employees of government agencies or nonprofits have ripped those entities off to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. And by entities I mean that ultimately you and I as taxpayers and donors have been used.

All three stories are on The Herald’s front page:

YWCA– $300,000

Snohomish County– $50,000

Roosevelt Water Association– $400,000

People are quick to talk about a lack of controls or supervision and I don’t know if that’s true here. But the reason these stories caught my eye is that these are just the people who got caught and many people won’t stand up to others who might be doing the same thing.

Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” He’s right. If the neutral, apathetic, “look the other way,” “oh, that’s just how it is” people would start standing up against evil, we’d have a majority to fight back against the minority who do these things, whether in business, politics, personal relationships, and just about every other area of human existence.

How many people suspected that those responsible for these greedy acts were doing something wrong before they got caught? How many shared their concerns with someone in authority? Did those in authority take them seriously or did they believe the complainants were being paranoid, overly sensitive, had a personal beef with that person, dramatic, or too critical? Did they investigate or did they just let it slide?

As one of these articles pointed out, it can take years to build a solid case against an employee suspected of wrongdoing. What I always wonder, though, is how many years before that did one of their coworkers notice that the books were a bit off, or that the person seemed to be living beyond their means?

About a year ago I was reading an article about a legendary auditor back east who was retiring. While I’ve long considered the wisdom in the old adage, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he had an even better insight into when it is appropriate to start an investigation. In his experience, many people wouldn’t begin an audit or investigation if they came across a grey area. Why? Because it’s grey. Perhaps that’s just a fluke, or something minor, or it can’t be proven… maybe it’s not worth the organization’s time. But THAT, he said, is exactly the point at which you start to investigate.

Like many people on news forums are saying tonight, there need to be controls, audits, and appropriate people in management to help prevent these situations. But more than that, I believe we need people in both the public and private sector who will stand up for what’s right when something like this is possibly going wrong. And I hope their bosses investigate rather than coming up with a list of reasons why they shouldn’t.

Author Henry Cloud said that when we begin to draw our own line against evil behavior instead of hoping that someone else will, things can begin to change. If we expect to stop seeing headlines like this in the news, then we each have a personal responsibility to come forward when we suspect wrongdoing.

Yes, it can be nerve-wracking and uncomfortable or even bring a heavy cost if the organization defends them instead of you. But your conscience will be clean and your clues could lead to major crimes like embezzlement being exposed to the benefit of thousands of people, not just a few in your own little biome. 

Many of us work might work with narcissists and sociopaths who can be dangerous if cornered. But that’s why it can be prudent to go to someone above them in the food chain. There are also whistleblower laws to help protect you. I know that they don’t always do that, but in theory, they should. There are ways of being discreet or anonymous.

Perhaps a few brave coworkers brought these misdeeds to light and I applaud them for it. But we need many other brave people to speak up against crime and injustice if we ever truly want our society to change. In these cases, we can blame the system, but let’s not forget that each system starts with individuals who every day have a choice as to whether they’re going to turn a blind eye or speak up.

Change, in other words, begins with you and me.


You cannot be healthy unless you stand for something — even at a cost.

-Albert Schweitzer


9/26/13: Here’s another one: a Seattle Public Utilities employee pled guilty to taking $1.1 million!

10/10/13: The executive director of a Seattle nonprofit called Kids’ Club is accused of stealing at least $236,000.

10/16/13: A Democratic political operative was allowed to embezzle $330,000 from his party because of “lax oversight.”


©2013 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

3 thoughts on “Change Starts Here

  1. This is a good place to plug a book that I wish millions of more people would read, Babiak and Hare’s Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, People need to stop expecting psychopaths and their cousins to look and act like Norman Bates. They are among us, hiding behind their masks of normalcy.

    In my experience they embed themselves so deeply into an organization that you might actually be attacked for questioning or accusing the beloved “superstar” who started stroking superiors’ egos as soon as they were hired. It’s no secret that dealing with someone like this is why I left law enforcement. These types are very often attracted to the criminal justice system, nonprofits, and other places where they can hide behind a benevolent “helper” persona.


  2. I have actually known several embezzlers and it surprised me when each of them was arrested. Hopefully they aren’t all as good at lying as the ones I knew were.

    There was a whole day dedicated to financial safeguards in the training I went to on nonprofit management. They shared nightmare situations – the worst was a lady who worked as a secretary at a chamber of commerce for 25 years and everyone knew and loved her. She retired. When the exec figured out her accounting system he realized she had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which is why you ALWAYS have a duplicate bank statement sent to your home or a board member.


    1. Good point about the duplicates. Yeah, these low to no conscience people know how to ingratiate themselves to an organization and appear faultless. So from my own experiences I’m not surprised that Miss Sweet Little Dedicated Secretary turned out be a con artist.


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