making local government more ethical

You are here

Falsely Impugning Reputation

There is a lot of talk about courtesy in politics, but most discourtesy involves lack of respect and uncontrolled emotions on the part of officials in their relations with each other. It becomes an ethical problem when citizens are attacked in order to intimidate them and others from being involved in local politics. The conflicting interest here is central to democracy: participation in government. False personal attacks are a favorite means of decreasing participation and citizen oversight.

I've been on the receiving end myself, and it is ugly. It would not be so favored if it were clearly considered an ethical violation.

100(19). Falsely Impugning Reputation

An official or employee* may not falsely impugn the reputation of a city resident. If an official or employee* believes his or her accusation to be true, and then learns that it was false, even in part, he or she should apologize in the same forum the accusations were made. A failure to so apologize within a reasonable period of time after learning of the falseness of the accusations will create the presumption that the conduct was fully intentional.

Comment: A common way for officials to intimidate residents who speak out and to prevent others from similarly speaking out is to use their positions of respect to falsely attack people who lack such positions, and thereby destroy their reputation and the legitimacy of their arguments, so that opposition from that individual and others will lessen. This form of misuse of office is central to undermining free debate as well as citizen oversight of executive and legislative actions.

Story Topics: