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Saturday, Feb 15 2014 11:03 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Hey, can you spare a $20 for my Scout?

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By ROBERT PRICE, Californian executive editor rprice@bakersfield.com

My Girl Scouts cookie order is due to arrive in about a week. I don't need any Girl Scouts cookies, believe me, so I'll do what I've done the last couple of years and give most of them away. Ten years ago I would have hunkered down and pounded a box and a half of Thin Mints in a half-hour.

I bought four assorted boxes from a co-worker last month. It wasn't because I like Girl Scout cookies, although I do, or because I like this particular co-worker, although I do, but because the rules of karma require it.

For 10 years or more I was that guy at work with the order form and the sheepish grin, guilt-tripping colleagues into buying "discount cards" and inflated-price cookie dough that they didn't want. For me to then turn down the next wave of sheepishly grinning co-workers would be like challenging God to smite me with a lightning bolt just on principle. I'm doomed to remain a sucker for nonprofit carbohydrates.

When my daughter was 7 or 8 and working her first cookie sale as a new Girl Scout, I sat down and helped her work out plan of attack -- which neighbors to approach and how to phrase her sales pitch. It went pretty well, I think, mostly because she was missing a tooth right in the front of her little-girl smile.

But I carried a substantial part of the load by bringing her order form to work, and for as long as she was a Girl Scout I was her No. 1 non-commissioned sales rep.

Not only was I not doing anyone any favors, though, I wasn't even honoring the semi-official Girl Scouts mission statement on cookie sales: "Every time you buy a box of cookies," the organization's website declares, "you help girls learn 5 essential skills -- goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. ... They learn and they earn, all thanks to you!"

It doesn't mention the sixth essential skill: training one's parent to sow resentment at work.

Clearly, if Girls Scouts are to sell cookies the way the organization seems to want to sell them, they'll snatch back those order forms. They'll walk right up to strangers (in pairs, of course, with an adult somewhere nearby) and address them in clear voices both confident and squeeze-their-little-cheeks cute. Something like: "Sir! Would you like to make a token but meaningful investment in the future of this great nation?"

To which the stranger might respond by producing the shiny silver badge of an undercover officer and arrest the sash-wearing delinquents for violating the city's no-panhandling ordinance.

Imagine two such well-meaning documents at odds -- the Girl Scouts' cookie-sales directive and Bakersfield's theoretical (but still under advisement) ban on the street solicitation of charitable donations.

What's a Girl Scout to do? For years now, they've planted themselves behind card tables in front of big-box stores, content to passively entice shoppers. That seems to work pretty well, but with a Girl Scout leader sitting right there, supervising the whole operation, I doubt there's much in the way of money management or business ethics education taking place. No, the best way for a Girl Scout to benefit from the annual cookie sales event is to get out there and knock on doors -- familiar doors first, but doors.

The city attorney's office, however, say it's possible that kind of behavior may not be legally distinguishable from panhandling -- even if a purchase is involved. The First Amendment must be applied evenly, cookies or no.

Some office workers would no doubt love to see a panhandling ordinance applied specifically to fathers who bring their daughters' order forms into the break room.

But an ordinance that targets Girl Scouts and spare-change seekers alike just seems too broad. If I so choose, I think I can manage to avoid an unshaven man with a tin cup as easily as a girl in a beret.

Email Executive Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com. Twitter: @stubblebuzz

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