Markkula Center for Applied Ethics - Better Choices


Tara Martin-Milius

Tara Martin-Milius

Tara Martin-Milius

Councilperson, City of Sunnyvale

Tara Martin-Milius got her start in the high tech world and then went on to become a corporate trainer.  When she became a Sunnyvale City Council member five years ago, she found herself in a totally different world. 

“All my mental models were from the private sector,” she remembers.  “So many things you would do in the private sector are not possible in government.”

Martin-Milius found the Ethics Center’s programs in government ethics helped ease her transition into the public realm.  “Of course, the basics of honesty and integrity are fundamental to humans, but the actual actions you do can differ from one sector to another,” she says. 

“Normally, you would go behind closed doors to do negotiations in business,” she explained, “but in government, most of those have to be public.  Also, you can have a conflict of interest in way you wouldn’t have thought about in the private sector.”

The Center’s programs have helped Martin-Milius in “framing those issues.”  She has particularly appreicated the MOOC (Massive, Open, Online Course) “How to Run an Ethical Political Campaign—and Win!” although, at first, the idea of an online course didn’t appeal.  “I was hesitant,” she says, “because my experience with online training was negative.  As a trainer myself, I can be persnickety.” 

But Martin-Milius liked the way the MOOC was structured, with a short lecture setting the theoretical framework, a case study, and interviews with people in the political field.  “It was also extremely interesting because it was a global offering.  You get to see comments on the case studies that may take the exact opposite approach from the way we operate here.  That illuminates other areas that we might want to explore when we’re working with very diverse cultures, as we are in the Bay Area.”

Martin-Milius has also been a devoted member of the Center’s Public Sector Roundtable, a group of local government leaders who meet quarterly to inform themselves on the ethical challenges confronting officials. 

“The roundtables suit me to a T,” she says, “because part of the way I learn is through conversation.  The meetings always start with a thought leader who sets the context and starts the discussion.  Hearing other people on the topic always springboards new ideas and new perspectives.  It gives you a better understanding of others and their concerns.”