making local government more ethical

City Ethics Essentials

Cities across the United States are creating and expanding Ethics Commissions, Ethics Offices and Inspector Generals in order to fight corruption and establish higher ethical standards for their governments. I will be posting some of the best ideas from these programs on this site. If you have comments on what is written, good, bad or just a stray idea, please comment! Carla Miller, president, City Ethics.

The first BEST PRACTICE entry is "Ethics Program Essentials". These are key points to consider when starting an ethics program.



Ethics Program Essentials

Ethics Code
clear, concise, comprehensive, and accessible; including provisions such as conflicts of interest, withdrawal from participation due to conflicts, misuse of office resources and confidential information, gifts restrictions, lobbying registration and disclosure, moonlighting, subordinates, certain kinds of political activity, and certain post-employment activities.
Training
A requirement that all elected officials have at least 4 hours of initial ethics training followed by yearly updates; training for all other employees, especially those in zoning, procurement and permitting jobs. as well as people who do business with the municipality
Advice
quick and informal (Ethics Officer), as well as formal and written (Ethics Commission) with the Commission having discretion to waive rules if considered appropriate
Financial Disclosure
annual disclosure and transactional disclosure when a conflict arises
Independent Ethics Commission;
to enforce the ethics code and have the ability to issue written sanctions; power to initiate investigations; consideration of allowing the commission to propose changes to ethics laws directly to the electorate.
Ethics Officer
To provide training and informal advice; to coordinate with national organizations for best practices. Purpose is to inspire & train, not to punish; this can be a collateral duty, usually in the legal department.
Transparency
In all government activities – web-based access strongly preferred.
Campaign Financing, Elections
these are best handled at a state level—lobby for your state to adopt best practices
Hot Lines and Whistle-Blower Protection
Protections need to be established by code or statute that ensure that (valid) whistleblowers are not attacked by vengeful officials.
Values-Based Program
Ethics policies that go beyond legal provisions to include the values and obligations expected of employees and officials.

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