Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Ethics Cases

Government Ethics

The Case of the Questionable Campaign Photo
Hana Callaghan
Focus: A candidate uses a controversial photo in a campaign brochure.

Consulting on the Side: A Case Study
Joan Cassman
Focus: A public agency CEO has a side consulting business that may create a conflict of interest.

Widespread Government Corruption: When is it Time to Leave Your Job?
Amanda Nelson
Focus: A recent college graduate encounters a culture of corruption in her first job in local government.

Unequal Work Distribution: Gender Discrimination in Work Assignments
Saayeli Mukherji
Focus: Interns must decide how to handle a sexist supervisor.

The Dhaka Factory Fire: Who Is Responsible?
Saayeli Mukherji and Noah Rickling
Focus: Is the Bangladeshi government or the factory owner more at fault for a fire that killed 112 people?

What "Wood" You Do? A Government Ethics Case
Judy Nadler
Focus: The fire chief takes wood from city trees for his personal use.

Ethical Challenges in the City Manager/City Councilmember Relationship
Frank Benest
Focus: Three scenarios depicting typical ethical issues that arise between councilmembers and managers

Social Media Create Ethical Dilemma
Judy Nadler
Focus: Former fraternity brother "Derek" asks "Mike" for a recommendation. Should Mike mention the exploits chronicled on Derek's Facebook page?

When Is a Contribution a Bribe?
Judy Nadler
Focus: A popular local businesswoman and philanthropist is found guilty of "pay to play" contributions to the mayor's reelection campaign. Should charities still accept her contributions?

What's in a Name?
Judy Nadler
Focus: The (fictional) town of Berkshire has named a plaza after its long-time mayor. Now the mayor has been convicted of taking kickbacks. Should the city change the plaza name?

Mayor Becomes an Undercover Citizen Journalist
Judy Nadler
Focus: Mayor Mike Winderof West Valley City, Utah, assumed an adopted identity to write the "good news" about his city in the local newspaper.

Friendly Advice or Quid pro Quo
Judy Nadler
Focus: An employee of the Planning Department "recommends" particular contractors who offer him kickbacks.

Old Guard vs. New Guard
Judy Nadler
Focus: A dynamic new city manager comes into conflict with the previous city manager, now elected to the city council. One policy they disagree about: the need for a city code of ethics and values.

Land Use Decisions and Community Values
Judy Nadler
Focus: In this case study, city council must decide whether to allow a restaurant that features "scantily clad" waitresses to occupy a vacant storefront.

Handling Council Critics
Jason Wu
Focus: Does incivility violate a city's code of ethics?

What's OK in a Campaign Blog
Judy Nadler
Focus: Vitriolic posts from a hostile blogger lead a candidate's supporters to counter-attack.

Deep Pockets in the Public Sector
Miriam Schulman
Focus: When should a city defend against litigation, and when should it settle? A look at the ethical issues.

Whom Do I Represent? Local and Regional Public Service
Judy Nadler
Focus: A case study of a councilmember serving on the county transit board

Serving the Greater Good: A Conflict Between Local and State Responsibilities
Judy Nadler
Focus: A case study of a councilmember invited to serve on a statewide task force

Successfully Serving as a City Council Member and a Non-profit Board Member
Robin Lowe, Judy Nadler, Eric Vail
Focus: Three brief cases illustrating conflicts between non-profit and public service

When Doing Good May Be Doing Wrong
Judy Nadler
Focus: Four scenarios on potential conflicts between public service and work with non-profits

Serving Two Masters: Discussion of the Cases

Focus: Responses to cases illustrating conflicts of interest

Setting the Stage for Problems
Roey Rahmil
Focus: Should a public official solicit charitable contributions from businesses that are under his supervision?

Election Irregularities
Roey Rahmil
Focus: A newly elected mayor decides whether to contest a citation for election code violations.

On the Record
Roey Rahmil
Focus: What is a former supervisor's duty to reveal about past poor judgments by a candidate for public office.

Civil Disagreement
Judy Nadler
Focus: A case exploring the limits of public debate

Name Calling on the Council
Judy Nadler
Focus: When the mayor and a councilmember disagree vociferously, is it unacceptable conduct or just the normal rough and tumble of politics?

No Such Thing as a Free Ticket
Judy Nadler
Focus: A case involving a gift to a government official

Political Perk or Part of the Job?
Judy Nadler
Focus: A mayor must decide whether to accept VIP treatment at the ballpark.

Councilmember and the Manager
Judy Nadler
Focus: A city councilmember must decide if he can impartially review the performance of the city manager.

The Case of the Friendly Consultant
Judy Nadler
Focus: A mayor wonders whether a friendly lunch is actually an occasion for lobbying.

Open Meetings: A Case Study
Judy Nadler
Focus: An executive session makes citizens question a city council's decision on rezoning.

The Candidate's Crisis of Conscience
Judy Nadler
Focus: A candidate for city council must decide how frank to be in endorsement interviews.

Campaign Ethics Challenge
Judy Nadler
Focus: A candidate faces a last-minute attack from an opponent.

The Case of the Extra Mile
Kirk O. Hanson
Focus: Ethics case addressing the work-life balance for public employees.

The Case of the Mangled Data
Kirk O. Hanson
Focus: Ethics case addressing the responsibility of public employees to provide accurate information.

Government Ethics Cases for City Finance Directors
Judy Nadler
Focus: Scenarios ask city finance directors to give a red or green light.

Home Run or Foul Ball
Judy Nadler
Focus: What are the ethical issues to consider when a city manager is dealing with city contracts?

Red Light, Green Light
Judy Nadler
Focus: Ten ethical dilemmas facing elected officials.

A Tale of Two Downtowns
Judy Nadler
Focus: How should a Vietnamese-American councilmember balance the needs of his own ethnic group and the needs of other segments of the community?

Alice Hayes and Affordable Housing
Judy Nadler
Focus: A new city councilmember must weigh the community's need for affordable housing with the desire to preserve open space.

Business as Usual
Judy Nadler
Focus: A retired city engineer goes back to work for the city as an independent contractor. When he bids for a job, a councilmember raises questions.

Case of the Big Box Retailer
Judy Nadler
Focus: A revenue shortfall causes a city council to consider the tax benefits from a big-box retailer versus the potential harm to established small businesses.

The Mayor and the Manager
Judy Nadler
Focus: A case exploring the proper relationship between city councilmembers and city staff.

Old Friends and Conflicts of Interest
Judy Nadler
Focus: How do relationships with "old friends" change when someone is elected to public office?

Sex in the City
Judy Nadler
Focus: Is an elected official's personal life legitimately "private"?

The Case of the Sikh Temple
Mark Ralkowski
Focus: Plans for a 94,000 square foot structure raise questions about the zoning of a house of worship.

The Cyber City Network
Thomas Shanks
Focus: An online network for city services raises questions about access and whether the provision of services electronically will increase disparities between rich and poor.