Everyone is way too busy this week, so I appreciate your reading this column. This quick year-end quiz won't take up much of your time. Here's how it works: Below are three situations from the past year that called out for an intelligent, measured response. If you pick the best answer, you'll know for sure that you're smarter, more reasonable, or at least more concerned with ethics than some folks who should know better.
1. You're head honcho at Duke Energy. You present your company as a green, 21st century utility, dedicated to helping the environment with innovative projects. Your PR campaign works, and national media outlets repeat your claims of Duke's enviro-friendliness. So how do you follow up on your success?
A. You travel the width of the state, from Murphy to Manteo, in an electric car to further publicize your fabulous "greenitude."
B. You announce the formation of a consortium of companies and communities from both Carolinas, dedicated to installing the world's largest wind farm — similar to the current largest one, installed this year off the coast of England, which produces enough electricity to power every home in Scotland — off the Carolinas' coast.
C. You fight like hell to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from declaring toxic coal ash ponds "hazardous"; cancel the lone, measly wind power project you had in the works; and start a new big push toward nuclear power, which creates unimaginably toxic waste that lasts millions of years.
2. As CEO of Bank of America, you've seen the nation's economy — and your company — nearly tank due to wildly unethical investment practices, which your company was party to. The company was bailed out by John Q. Public, and then forced by the government to act in an at least semi-human fashion toward your customers. As a result of all that, your company has taken on the public image of a heartless machine. How do you repair the damage?
A. You cry all the way to your bank.
B. Express your deep thanks to the American people for helping save your ass; issue an apology for BofA's part in perpetrating the Great Recession and letting the rest of us get stuck with cleaning up your mess; resign from the company; and start a lobbying group that pushes for stricter regulations of investment banking practices.
C. You blow off the bailout as no big deal; tweak a few things here and there; but basically go right back to the same old same old, including paying out big bonuses, knowing that you won't be punished for the damage you've caused because of the death grip high finance has on Washington.
3. As the newly elected school board chairman, you inherit a drastic but delicate situation that includes probable massive funding cuts. It will require diplomacy and great PR skills to earn the support of school children's parents for whatever action the board winds up taking. What to do?
A. You realize your situation is hopeless, quit your position and move to Belize.
B. You boldly organize meetings with city, county, and business leaders and develop a plan to save the public schools from disaster by making careful cuts, and finding "out of the box" ways to raise money. You then hold public meetings in all parts of the county to explain the new plan; you listen carefully to experienced teachers and parents who may have good ideas you've overlooked, and tweak your plan accordingly.
C. You run roughshod over students, parents, teachers and even fellow board members by developing a confusing, ever-changing series of plans revolving around school closings and massive student re-assignments. You hold too few public meetings about the changes, then throw out or arrest people who protest, leading to the type of school-related rancor and racial divisions the city hasn't seen in a long time. As a result of your efforts, nearly everyone is mightily pissed off, and a pall of failure now hangs over the school system.
Answers: For every question, the best answer is B. What actually happened is C.