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Ethics Education

This is the place to provide opinions and recommendations regarding ethics education. Please suggest alternative language to what is below, and please share your experiences with ethics education, and how such experiences can be included in an ethics code, as well as other means to ensure that effective ethics training is provided. Other issues to discuss include who should receive ethics education, who should provide or be reponsible for the provision of ethics education, and how this education should be funded. Please share your experiences with training each of these groups, especially the ones that are often ignored, as well as experiences with problems in funding ethics education (and how people have succeeded in getting such funding).

211. Training and Education.

The Ethics Commission (1) will, within one year after its passage, make this code, and explanations of its provisions (including information on how to fill out all forms and statements), available (including, but not limited to, on the city website) to all officials and employees, candidates and consultants*, and to municipal residents and to all persons doing business or interested in doing business with the city, and (2) will develop educational materials and a required educational program for the officials and employees of the city, and those who do business with the city, regarding the provisions of this code. The educational program must begin within eighteen months after this code goes into effect. In addition, the Ethics Commission will hold an annual workshop for new and old officials and employees to discuss this code, its values and goals, its enforcement, and the ways in which it has affected their work and the working of the city government.

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Robert Wechsler says:

California required all local government officials to take an ethics training course by the end of 2006. The requirement could be met by an in-person or on-line course.

This requirement is coming in for some criticism. One Stockton reporter found the hour-long session for local agency leaders "anything but rigorous," but far better than the on-line course, which "can be clicked through in 63 seconds."

The session he attended was given by the City Attorney, who is quoted as beginning with, "The irony of having an attorney brief you all on ethics is not lost on me." He called the on-line course "just like traffic school." And yet as of December 14, three of Stockton's seven council members hadn't steered their way through the course.

Another reporter had a different impression of the on-line course. He didn't click through it, but spent two hours on it, finding it far too complicated. He concluded that "the legislature dreamed this up so it could have a holier-than-thou attitude toward the antics of some of the locals." He also worried that ethics reform in the past hadn't made much of a difference.

This is not the sort of conclusion that should be drawn from a good ethics course. As with a poor ethics code being worse than no code at all, going through the motions with ethics training requirements, making people feel they've done their duty, might be worse than no ethics training at all.

What do you think? Good ethics training is very expensive. Do you know of any first-rate on-line courses?

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics
[email protected]

Robert Wechsler says:

For a discussion of cynicism with respect to ethics training, visit my blog entry on the topic.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics
[email protected]org