Santa Clara University

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Her Honor

Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.

The following postings have been filtered by tag relationships between elected officials and staff. clear filter
  •  Social Media Create an Ethical Dilemma

    Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

    The following is a fictionalized case reflecting some of the ethical dilemmas facing public officials.

    Mike Monroe and Derek Wheeler were roommates and fraternity brothers at a small mid-western college. Both were political science majors, so they saw a lot of each other, both in academic and social situations. Derek’s wild and outrageous pranks, excessive drinking, and one-night-stands earned him the reputation of playing “fast and loose” in his personal life. He had been caught plagiarizing twice, but was only given a warning. Still, he was personable and a good friend, so upon graduation the two vowed to stay in touch.

    After their fifth college reunion, where Derek became so drunk he needed to be hospitalized, Mike decided to break off communication. His only updates on his former roommate came through the fraternity alumni magazine, where Derek submitted updates on his career. He had a master’s degree in public administration, and had been working for cities in several states. His job in each jurisdiction lasted only two or three years, but each new job sounded like a promotion. Mike figured Derek had finally “grown up” and was happy to learn of his success.

    Mike had also been successful. He moved to Utah, and worked as a field representative for a state legislator. He fell in love with public service and was elected to the city council. He was now in his second term as mayor, and was overseeing a new “culture of ethics” program in River Falls, stressing  values in addition to the rules outlined in the code of ethics.

    It had been 10 years since they last connected, so Mike was surprised to get an invitation from Derek to be a friend on two separate Facebook accounts. Mike agreed, and first went to a personal account featuring facts about Derek’s education, work history, and family. The second Facebook page, with privacy controls restricting access, was for a group called “Derek’s Doghouse.” The other “friends” on the site included some fraternity brothers, but also a collection of men Derek had met or worked with over the years.

    He founded the group, according to the site, “ to celebrate the good life: wine, women, and wild times.” The wall postings chronicled wild weekends in Las Vegas, gambling on sporting events, and exploits with women while on business trips. The 20 or so members were candid, unedited, and occasionally profane in their comments, bragging about their bad behavior. The stories were often accompanied by compromising photos.

    Within days of the Facebook contact, Derek called Mike to ask for a job recommendation. He was submitting his application for the assistant city manager position in River Falls and wanted Mike to put in a good word. “I’ve never asked for a favor,” Derek said, “but this job is perfect for me and my family. I really hope you will be able to influence the HR director and city manager to hire me.”

    Discussion questions:

    • How should Mike proceed?  Should he tell Derek he doesn’t feel comfortable making the recommendation?
    • Should he tell Derek that River Falls is not a "good fit" for him?
    • Does he have an obligation to alert the HR manager and/or city manager of the way Derek conducts his personal life?
    • Is Derek’s secret personal life an indication of his values? Does it matter?

    Please let us know what you think by posting your comments on this site.

  •  Soap Opera At City Hall

    Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010

    The headline was simple enough: "Panel Says Haines City Manager and Police Chief Violated Ethics Laws." But what followed in the local newspaper was a tangled tale worthy of any soap opera.

    The Florida Commission on Ethics has announced there is propable cause City Manager Ann Toney-Deal and former Police Chief Morris West were in violation of ethics laws in 2008. The charges stem from a sexual harassment complaint by a woman officer. The city manager is charged with improperly conducting her own investigation, rather than processing it through the appropriate channels in the police department.

    The plot grows thicker. The officer accused of the charges resigned after a plea deal with the State Attorney's office. The plea also involved a second sexual harrasment charge related to a consenual affair with a former police officer.

    The city manager, if convicted, faces removal from office or a fine of up to $10,000. Former Chief West resigned and gave up his law enforcement credentials in a separate deal with the state attorney, who then agreed to drop three counts of soliciting prostitution from a female parolee.

    And to make this story even more incredible, the mayor of Haines is Horace West, brother of the former chief.

    I recount this story not because it highlights wrong-doing by public officials. Rather, it serves as an illustration that even in a town of 13,000 the public and press must hold all public officials accountable.

    The Grand Jury wrote a highly critical report about the management of the Police Department, yet it was only after the report was released that the state attorney took  action.

    The city commission voted to retain the city manager on a split vote, and we don't know the outcome of this saga yet. But one of the commissioners who voted to fire Toney-Deal summed it up: "In the category of ethical conduct, we have to be above reproach."


  •  Unfunded Pensions: Who Is Responsible?

    Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010

    Most of the debate about unfunded public pensions centers on the nation's largest city governments. The situation is equally critical in some of our smaller communities.

    South Burlington, Vermont has a population of only 17,000, but the current pension plan is underfunded by $9 million.

    Council members have placed the blame on former city manager Chuck Hafter -- they allege he knew of the growing problem but failed to inform the council or the community.

    In fact, the council has asked for a formal investigation by the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA). The runaway costs,  Hafter says, are due to public safety enhancements; the council is accusing him of negligence, concealment, and possible personal financial benefit.

    Regardless of the outcome of any investigation, this case is an indication of the pervasive problem state and local governments face when trying to live up to negotiated benefits.

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