Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Sex in the City

When David Glaser was elected mayor of Lawrence, the headline read "Breath of Fresh Air Invigorates City." At age 30, Glaser was the youngest person ever elected to the city council. First appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission at 25, he impressed the council with his youth and enthusiasm. He quickly went to work, sparking the city manager to propose new programs to enhance the sense of community in the fast-growing city, which had been criticized for its lack of imagination and stodgy style.


"There has been too much talk about business and not enough talk about family," said Glaser during the campaign. "I intend to reverse that trend, and make Lawrence a family-friendly city." The father of twin toddlers, Glaser enjoyed great success, sponsoring a series of concerts in the park, an Easter Egg Hunt, and the city's first Art and Wine Festival. David's wife Debbie quit her job teaching at the junior high school when her sons were born and initially accompanied David to as many events as she could. Fondly called the "First Lady" by the press and public, she was proud of his accomplishments, but found that the long hours and evening meetings put a strain on her marriage.

As the city embarked on the "General Plan" update, David spent more and more time at City Hall, working with the planning staff on details for the public hearings. At this time he became romantically involved with City Planner Suzanne Donohue, whose divorce had been made final a few months earlier. Rumors flew around City Hall. The city manager, in his Monday morning staff meeting asked all department heads to consider conversations about the personal life of any staff or elected official "off limits" and to instruct their employees likewise. The vice mayor spoke with David, suggesting that his behavior was reflecting poorly on the values the city promoted and was creating an unnecessary distraction for the council. The mayor assured him that the relationship was "platonic" and that he would be "an idiot" to leave his wife and kids.

When David and Suzanne arrived at the Fourth of July fireworks publicly holding hands, the council felt embarrassed, betrayed, and angry. With no apologies and no explanation, the mayor answered media questions with "No comment" or "My private life is none of the public's business." He refused to discuss the matter with his council colleagues, saying if they had a question about how he was running the city he would answer. But he wouldn't talk to them about how he was running his life.

The city manager had refused comment to the media but privately worried that the affair would impact staff morale, cast an unfavorable light on the city, and cause the Western Regional Baptist Conference to cancel a contract with the city convention center for a "Family Values Conference", resulting in a huge financial loss to local hotels and restaurants.

Questions:

1. Is an elected official's personal life legitimately "private"?
2. What should the city manager do?
3. What should the other council members do?

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This case has been prepared by Judy Nadler, Senior Fellow in Government Ethics, as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate effective or ineffective handling of a governmental situation.

Copyright © 2004 by the President and Board of Trustees of Santa Clara University. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce or post this case on a website, or electronic reserve, please contact ethics@scu.edu.


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