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Private morals affect jobs and public performance

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When asked why his Broadway portrayal of "Jekyll and Hyde" was so popular, actor Robert Cuccioli once told an interviewer from the Jekyll-Hyde.com Web site that people could identify with the character. "Well, not everyone is an ax murderer," he said. "But everyone has a dark side, a part that they are afraid to acknowledge. We can be one person during the workday, another at night."

Which brings us to Dale Moroni Gibbons, the now former chief financial officer of Zions Bancorp.

It also brings us to uncomfortable questions about how tolerant we ought to be of respected people who do bad things in private.

At a press conference last week, sheriff's deputies described what they found inside Gibbons' posh east-side house. On one side of his closet were dark suits and conservative shirts and ties — the trappings of a successful banker. On the other were silk shirts — the trappings of a 40-something guy who fantasizes himself in the role of a party dude.

It is important to remember that the charges against Gibbons have yet to be tried. He has not so far been found guilty. But the allegations against him suggest a man who saw himself as a character in a hip action adventure. Instead, it was a tragedy. The play had a long run and might have continued indefinitely — despite the complaints neighbors lodged about loud parties and staggering teenagers — if not for a 911 call from Gibbons, himself.

On June 12, Gibbons called to report that a 19-year-old woman had overdosed and was unconscious in his house. When police arrived, they found her lying naked and unresponsive on a bed. They also found Gibbons' 15-year-old daughter nearly unconscious. Tests showed the older woman had ingested alcohol, cocaine and GHB, commonly known as the date-rape drug. The daughter's problems were a bit harder to diagnose, although she reportedly had consumed significant amounts of alcohol. In Gibbons' bedroom, officers said they found 0.9 grams of methamphetamine. In his daughter's room, they said they found pornographic magazines.

Last Wednesday, Gibbons officially was charged with methamphetamine possession, dealing in material harmful to a minor and endangering a child, all felonies.

His co-workers no doubt are wondering how they missed all the signs. Gibbons drove a Jaguar with the license plate "Rolling." To users of the drug ecstasy, that describes the high they feel. To an everyday bank executive in Utah, it can mean driving down the road in a nice car.

The Hydes of the world see things through different lenses than the Jekylls. That's what makes the double life so easy for a while.

Not surprisingly, Zions Bancorp suspended Gibbons. If he is found guilty, I doubt anyone would seriously argue that he ought to keep his job. In fact, Zions Bancorp already has launched an independent audit, no doubt with an eye toward public confidence. No one thinks an individual should be trusted with important responsibilities during the day when there is strong evidence to suggest he is a dark person at night.

Unless, of course, the person in question is a public figure. Now that the curtain on this tragedy is starting to fall, we ought to ponder questions about our own hypocrisies.

Granted, Bill Clinton's dalliances with an intern and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's extramarital affair, which produced a child, do not rise to the same level of illegality as the things of which Gibbons stands accused. Nor, for that matter, do the misadventures with alcohol that seem to follow Utah County Commissioner David Gardner wherever he goes. But do they not shine a light on character traits that shake the public's trust? Why do so many ignore the emotional carnage some public officials cause as if it were useless debris on the side of life's highway, something to kick aside as they go on following the leader?

In politics, as we learned in recent years, Jekyll and Hyde behavior can be rationalized as compartmentalism, as if we expect public officials to have multiple personalities and the ability to keep them neatly separated.

A private employer may or may not take action against a cheating husband or a habitual drinker, but shouldn't people who hold public trusts be held to a higher standard?

There are, of course, degrees of bad behavior. No one is free of past mistakes. But when this newspaper regularly asks candidates questions about moral behavior, critics rise in indignation, arguing that private morals have little to do with public job performance.

Maybe we invest too much of ourselves, emotionally, in the people we support for office or in the champions we adore. Maybe Cuccioli is right. We don't want to admit to our own dark sides.

If so, we are hypocrites. In the age-old battle between right and wrong, we choose which side we're on. Folks who try to play both sides are not to be trusted.

Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret News editorial page. E-mail: even@desnews.com