Emerging Ethical Issues for Local Government Officials
Check in From the August 10, 2009, Roundtable
- Conflicts of interest for officials involved in real
estate transactions: Even when using the utmost caution,
shared one councilmember, checking with both the city attorney
and the California Fair Political Practices Commission, he
was still criticized for voting on a particular project. Often
the public perception of a conflict is so great that even
with "legal backup" an elected official is subject
to challenge. In this case, the councilmember has literally
drawn on a map an area within which he will not conduct any
real estate transactions.
- Social networking: Can a public official use a social
network such as Facebook for political discussion? Is it unethical
for these to be "by invitation only" or "closed"
- Blogs: What do you do when someone asks to be paid
to write nice things about you on a blog, or asks for "hush"
money to keep from writing critical items.
- Volunteering: City rules prohibiting former elected
officials from serving as volunteers "behind the counter"
at City Hall where they may be assumed to be exerting undue
influence over city employees, particularly on land-use issues.
- Spouses' Conflicts of Interest: Learning after a
vote has been taken that the major proponent of a neighborhood
park project was married to a councilmember who did not disclose
the relationship or refrain from voting.
- Addressing budget shortfalls in the city: Eliminating
all grants except the government's Community Development Block
Grant Funds (CDBG).
- Use of emails: Should council members use e-mail
to share information with an elected official or lobby about
a vote (including during a council meeting). If city does
not allow councilmembers to have city-sponsored email accounts,
how can the press and public decide which items are personal
and which are public record?
- Public Records: When the secretary routinely opens
all mail addressed to a councilmembers does that correspondence
become public record even if it was intended to be a private
- Travel and Training: In an era of budget constraints,
what is appropriate for a city to spend on travel and training
of elected officials and staff? Who decides?