Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers and Essay

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  • Subject: Government
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Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers and Employees

A Clear and Comprehensive Code of Ethics

Ethics Codes

Ethical Requirements of Municipal Office-Bearers and Municipal Officials

According to the Municipal Systems Act of 2000 a municipality is thought to do a lot of things which include:- developing and producing conditions for the local community to partake in the interaction of the municipality; contributing to the capacity construction of neighboring communities to authorize them to contribute in its dealings (Department of Constitutional Development, 1998); expressing its resources and finances yearly towards the formation of suitable participatory circumstances and constructing such capacity.

The purpose of this act is to establish minimum standards of ethical conduct for municipal officers and employees to help ensure that the business of government is free from improper influence that may result from opportunities for private gain. At the same time, it is recognized that public service cannot require a complete divesting of all proprietary interest, nor impose overly burdensome disclosure requirements, if local governments are to attract and hold competent administrators (Momoniat, 2001). Although the assurance of ethical conduct will continue to rest primarily on the personal integrity of the officers and employees themselves, on the commitment of elected and appointed officials, and on the vigilance of their communities, the establishment of the standards and guidelines set forth in this act is an additional step toward providing the highest caliber of public administration for local governments and increased confidence in public officials (Gildenhuys, 2002). By requiring public annual disclosure of interests that may influence or be perceived to influence the actions of public officials, this act is intended to facilitate consideration of potential troubles before they happen, to reduce unwarranted suspicion, and to improve the responsibility of government to the people. It is the intent of this act that every governmental entity in the state not subject to the state ethics commission, the legislative ethics committee, or the provisions of subdivision 4 of section 211 of the judiciary law shall be subject to the state commission on local government ethics, established by this act (DBSA, 2000). It is also the intent of this act not to replace but rather to supplement other, consistent provisions of law regulating ethics in local government, such as section 107 of the civil service law, and to effect no change in the regulation of compatibility of public office (Atkinson, 2002; Bird, 2003).

Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers and Employees.

1.

General prohibition. A municipal officer or employee will not use his or her official position, or obtain or fail to implement any action, in a way which he or she recognizes or has reason to know may outcome in a personal financial advantage for any of the following people:

A.

the municipal officer or employee;

B.

his or her outside employer or business (Rural Development Unit, 2004);

C.

a member of his or her household;

D.

a customer or client;

E.

a relative; or F.

an individual from whom the officer or employee has accepted election campaign donations of more than $1,000 in the aggregate during the past twelve months (DBSA, 1998).

2.

Recusal. A municipal officer or employee shall promptly refuse himself or herself from acting on a matter before the municipality when acting on the matter, or failing to act on the matter, may financially benefit any of the persons listed in subdivision 1 of this section (Swilling, 1988).

3.

Gifts. A municipal officer or employee shall not solicit anything of value from any person who has received or sought a financial benefit from the municipality, nor accept anything of value from any person who the municipal officer or employee knows or has reason to know has received or sought a financial benefit from the municipality within the previous twenty-four months (Whelan, 2002).

4.

Representation. A municipal officer or employee will not stand for any other person in any matter that person has before the city nor stand for any other person in any material against the well-being of the municipality.

5.

Appearances. A municipal officer or employee shall not appear before any agency of the municipality, except on his or her own behalf or on behalf of the municipality (Rural Development Unit, 2004).

6.

Confidential information. Municipal officers or employees and former municipal officers and employees shall not disclose any confidential information or use it to further anyone's personal interests.

7.

Political solicitation. A municipal officer or worker shall not intentionally request or intentionally approve anyone else to request any minor of the officer or employee to contribute in an election campaign or donate to a political committee.

8.

Revolving door. A municipal officer or employee shall not appear or practice before the municipality, except on his or her own behalf, or receive compensation for working on any matter before the municipality, for a period of one year after the termination of his or her municipal service or employment; however, the bar shall be permanent as to particular matters on which the municipal officer or employee personally worked while in municipal service (Gildenhuys, 2002).

9.

Avoidance of conflicts. Municipal officers or employees shall not knowingly acquire, solicit, negotiate for, or accept any interest, employment, or other thing of value which would put them in violation of this code of ethics (Whelan, 2002).

10.

Inducement of others. A municipal officer or employee shall not induce or aid another officer or employee of the municipality to violate any of the provisions of this code of ethics.

11.

Transactional disclosure. Whenever a municipal officer or employee is required to refuse himself or herself under this code of ethics, he or she (Department of Constitutional Development, 1997)

shall promptly inform his or her superior, if any, shall promptly file with the municipal clerk a signed statement disclosing the nature and extent of the prohibited action or, if a member of a board, shall state that information upon the public record of the board, and III.

shall immediately refrain from participating further in the matter (Bird, 2003).

A Clear and Comprehensive Code of Ethics

The first pillar of an effective government ethics law is a code of ethics. Simple, sensible, straightforward and short, the code of ethics must be understandable by every official and employee -- without a lawyer (Atkinson, 2002). Most officials also prefer bright line -- that is, clear cut -- rules, whenever possible. The code should set a uniform, minimum standard applicable to every officer and employee of the government, from the street sweeper to the president, although certain high-level officials may have even stricter standards.

The code of ethics should be a comprehensive list of do's and don'ts that will guide and protect government officials. Indeed, it may be said that an ethics law is the best friend of government employees because it tells them what the rules are, helps them stay out of trouble and protects them against friends or supervisors or private employers who just "want a little favor" (Bahl, 2002). When seeking to convince a legislative body to enact an ethics law, this point should be stressed. Bribery laws and ant kickback laws by their very nature call into question the integrity of public officials. But ethics laws may be presented as supportive of public officials (Whelan, 2002).

To keep the code of ethics readable to the average lay employee, it should not contain any definitions or exceptions, which should, instead, appear in separate sections (Rural Development Unit, 2004). Indeed, definitions should be kept to a minimum and should never expand the duties of the public official as set forth in the code of ethics itself. The goal is this: A government employee who reads and follows only the code of ethics and ignores the rest of the ethics law will not violate that law (DBSA, 1998).

For example, the following gifts provision from New York State's ethics law for municipal officials illustrates a bad ethics provision because it is complicated and vague:

No government officer or employee shall . . . directly or indirectly, solicit any gift, or accept or receive any gift having a value of seventy-five dollars or more, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment (Swilling, 1988), hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him, or could reasonably be expected to influence him, in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part. . . . (Gildenhuys, 2002).

One court has struck this provision down as unconstitutionally vague. Compare the following gift provision: "No government officer or employee shall solicit or accept for less than fair market value anything of value from anyone doing business with the government" (DBSA, 2000). The exceptions section could then permit certain kinds of gifts, such as gifts from family members, gifts of minimal value, gifts accepted on behalf of the government and given to the government,…

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