Santa Clara University

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Serving the Greater Good: A Conflict Between Local and State Responsibilities

By Judy Nadler

The economic downturn hit the city of Murdoch harder than most cities in the state. After losing the Air Force base during the federal government closures, the city searched for an alternative use for the buildings and the ancillary jobs lost in the community. Elsewhere in the city, a major automobile manufacturer closed its local factory, bringing unemployment figures to an all-time high.

When the governor convened a Blue Ribbon Task Force to explore options for economic development, Murdoch City Councilmember Marcel Maddox was appointed to serve. As one of 20 members of the high-profile and politically well-connected task force, Maddox had an opportunity not only to search for solutions but also to bring prominence to his city and gain powerful allies from across the state.

The task force was to meet once a month at the state capitol (for two full days) with occasional committee meetings, which were generally in the form of conference calls. Because of the importance of the work and the one-year sunset clause on group, the governor made attendance at the capitol meetings mandatory. After polling the group, a decision was made to meet on the first Monday and Tuesday of each month.

The Murdoch City Council meetings are held Monday evenings. Because of the distance Murdoch to the capitol, it would be impossible for Maddox to commute. Furthermore, the city charter requires attendance of councilmembers. Unexcused absences could lead to removal from office.

Now the City Council must decide whether to grant Murdoch excused absences for his service on the Task Force.

Questions:
  1. Should Councilmember Maddox resign from the governor's task force?
  2. Will he be able to do more for his city through participation in the task force or by attending council meetings?
  3. Are there any options the council could consider to allow him to do both jobs?
Discussion:

It is an honor as well as a responsibility for Councilmember Maddox to have been chosen to serve on the task force. The opportunity to have a role in crafting an economic development program is significant, and the contacts he will make on a statewide basis could be important in attracting business to his city.

He was elected to represent the people of Murdoch, and arguably he is doing that during the meetings at the state capitol. As long as he continues to actively participate in the legislative work of the city council and to remain closely connected with the community, he should be allowed to remain on the task force. Councilman Maddox should take extra steps to keep the council informed of the work of the task force and reinforce the importance of his participation.

The city council could consider a video or telephone conference to allow Councilman Maddox to participate in issues deemed to be of special significance, such as voting on the city budget.

Judy Nadler is senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. She wrote this case with support from LifeScan, a Johnson & Johnson.

December 2009

 
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