Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Ethics Cases

Government Ethics Cases

The Case of the County Cemetary: Open Meetings
Hana Callaghan
Focus: An ethics case involving California's Brown Act

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.

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?

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?

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.

When Official Roles Conflict

Focus: A set of case studies on conflicts of interest for local officials

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

Two Views of a Budget
Judy Nadler
Focus: A case study for state officials on resolving a budget crisis

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

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.

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.