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Municipal Ethics Codes: General Discussion of Their Importance, Types, and Their Role in a Municipal Ethics Program

City Ethics' Model Code Project assumes that an ethics code is central to municipal ethics programs.

But this raises several issues. How important is an ethics code to an ethics program? Can an effective ethical environment be created without any sort of written ethics code? If an ethics code is necessary, should it be aspirational or in the form of a law (or, as in our Model Code, both), and if in the form of a law, should it be enforceable?

This relatively high-level, philosophical discussion is more important than it may at first appear, because many municipal leaders do take the position that ethics codes are unnecessary, that ethical people will be ethical without them, and that they won't stop unethical people. People also feel that creating an ethics code is an admission that there are ethical problems in one's city or county (as if this were an admission of guilt rather than an acknowledgment of day-to-day reality).

Those who believe in the importance of ethics codes need to have effective responses to their contentions. This is a good place to list and discuss them.

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