By Stephen Dafoe
Gather around any office these days and you will find Christmas tinsel and Christmas treats in equal supply.
Recently, Town of Morinville employees have been spending their breaks and after hours decorating their offices in preparation for the Annual Best Dressed Desk Competition, an interoffice challenge that offers more than mere bragging rights – it offers Tim Horton’s gift cards.
Evidently the offering of gift cards, combined with unbridled lust for caffeinated beverages, has lead to a culture of corruption throughout the organization.
Gaudy festive gewgaws and tacky tinsels were not all that awaited judges making their decisions Dec. 12.
Library Manager Isabelle Cramp and Assistant Manager Cheryl Pasechnik, this year’s judges, were presented with cookies, cakes, candies and even custom-made snow globes, openly blatant bribes offered in exchange for an extra point or two on their clipboards.
In one office were found oranges and almonds, a weak attempt to play off the librarian stereotype of being straight-laced and health conscious.
Keeping with the holiday traditions, youth worker Nick Valcourt offered up a bribe of hard candy, a gambit that seemed a little crafty for someone under the age of 20-something.
Ebenezer (Andy) Isbister, Morinville’s Chief Financial Officer, would have no part in the bribing business until his minimalist efforts at office decorating were passed by. Then Isbister could be seen trailing after the two judges miserly offering a bonbon or two from his private stash of non-festive candy. It proved too little and way too late.
Some were so brazen with their bribing efforts that they put signs on their sugary incentives to encourage the judges to take them. “I heard the judges can be bribed, HELP YOURSELF,” read one such sign showing just how shameless Town staff were to win a coffee gift card.
Tim Vrooman, a planner with the Town, was cautious in his bribing efforts. A single broken candy cane hung from his monitor, leaving it unclear to the judges if the candy was his attempt to decorate in a minimalist fashion or a bribe to get points from the judges even though he did not bother to decorate. In the end the judges rejected his entry because they felt there were insufficient parking stalls.
How deep the corruption plunged was most evident at the Community Services offices where sugary bribes outnumber decorations by a factor of four-to-one.
Every monitor had a screensaver showing a burning fireplace, but it was not immediately evident if the imagery was intended to create a Christmassy atmosphere or some sort of Community Services voodoo intended to hypnotize judges into coughing up more points in exchange for candy and fruit cake.
Stables not screen savers proved to earn the judge’s favour, although it is not certain how much an assortment of conveniently placed bribes helped Community Cultural Centre employee Melodie Steele win first place.
Outside Steele’s door was a façade of a reindeer stable – inside a façade of honesty as cotton, ornaments and a festively clothed Jimmy Flynn doll danced around a tray of Toffifee with the judge’s names figuratively and literally written on them.
Under a cranberry sphere hanging from the archway judges passed into the Director of Community Service’s office, someone who should be curtailing the bribery rather than engaging in it. Here were found a collection of old fashioned Christmas decorations, made all the more attractive by a generous bribe of old fashioned home baking.
None of the treats and trinkets affected the judge’s decision, or so they claim.
Denying all allegations of being influenced by the bribes, the two judges claim it was creativity and not candies that swayed their votes. “I think it was the amount of effort that went into it, the personal touches,” said judge Isabelle Cramp, adding Melodie Steele’s entry particularly showed that with the use of reindeer cut outs and handmade snowflakes.
Other competitors’ creativity impressed the judges as well. Nick Valcourt’s entry offered a masculine vision of Christmas, complete with an electric train set travelling around his desk. “I think the train was creative and very boy-oriented,” Cramp said. “He had his door nicely done, too.”
First place went to Melodie Steele with 19.5 points out of a possible 20. Second place went to Nick Valcourt with a score of 18. Third place went to Lois Rusk with a score of 17.
High on one judge’s list was the third place winner’s snowman theme. “They were all in the same colour theme,” judge Cheryl Pasechnik said. “It was tastefully done.”
Interesting to both judges was the sense of rivalry between the Town Hall and Community Service employees at the opposite end of town. “It was a good effort everywhere,” Cramp said. “I think what comes out when you do decorations like that is people’s personalities.”
Speaking to the reasons for being selected as judges in this year’s contest, Pasechnik was first to admit to having been bribed. “I think they realized we’d be fair judges even though there were bribes involved,” she said. “We look at all aspects of it.”
Violating a public trust aside, the judges see the bribes as part of a greater bond between library and Town of Morinville staff that grew out of working side by side in the Parish Hall for more than a year while renovations were being done.
Over four months later and those bonds remain strong. “The bonds formed at the Parish Hall have continued,” Cramp said. “We worked together at the Parish Hall. We know these people and they know us.”
Interestingly enough, it seems the most important thing that was learned about each other is what baked goods will generate the most points come desk decorating time.
Council members have yet to comment on the deplorable nature of the bribery going on under their nose. Mayor Paul Krauskopf could not be reached for comment by our deadline, but in an imaginary interview said, “This is absolutely outrageous and I think we need to have an open house with some flow carts on easels in order to get the data we need to craft a bylaw to put a stop to this nonsense.”
Ebenezer Isbister could also not be reached for comment, having taken his private stash of Candy back into his office and locked the door.