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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Red Light, Green Light

Judy Nadler

Read each of these scenarios; then determine if they get the "red light" (do not proceed), "green light" (no problems seen), or "yellow light" (not so sure, proceed with caution or legal advice).

  1. A city firefighter has a house-painting business on the side and hires other off-duty firefighters. You are thinking about signing a contract because you know they do a good job and because you'd like to hear "informally" a little more about how things are going with the new chief.

  2. You receive a message at your city email address which contains a series of "dumb blonde" jokes. They strike you as pretty funny, so you forward the message to your council colleagues and about a dozen friends outside the city.

  3. A former council colleague sets up a consulting business and approaches you for a letter of reference. He submits a draft document, which makes mention of several projects he is taking credit for. You know that he was a minor player in one of these and feel uncomfortable with his suggestion that the letter be on city letterhead, "just to make it more official."

  4. You've been asked to be honorary chair of the Cancer Society Relay for Life fundraiser. After agreeing to participate, you learn the organizers are asking the city council to authorize additional police presence at the event and are requesting a waiver of the mandatory event permit fees.

  5. A council colleague is president of the local Rotary Club and seeks to have the state meeting at your city-owned and operated convention center. You serve on the council's Convention Center Subcommittee, where it is mentioned that your colleague is asking for a discount on all services.

  6. Your college fraternity brother has just moved to town and established his IT consulting business. Although the city has no RFP yet, you arrange for the current IT director to give him a behind-the-scenes tour, knowing he is interested in bidding on the contract.

  7. The mayor produces a flier used in his bid to become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. In addition to using his official city portrait, the publication incorporates the memo pad which reads "From the desk of the Mayor."

  8. After attending the ribbon cutting for the new French restaurant, you and your wife decide to stay for dinner. The owner indicates the meal is part of the opening celebration although you notice that all the other patrons have received bills. When you insist on paying, he presents a bill which does not include the cost of the champagne or dessert.

  9. The candidate you're supporting in the upcoming council race calls to see if you could help him get some photos for his campaign brochure. He works full time and can only do the photo shoot on Saturday. He is asking you to open City Hall and allow him access to the council chambers. You plan to go in on Saturday anyway to pick up your packet, so it would not be an inconvenience.

  10. You are invited to the San Jose Sharks playoff game by a council colleague, who says he has an extra ticket - no charge. You're surprised to find yourself in a box with the vice president of the local cable provider. More than 50 percent of the time is spent talking about the cable franchise, and you miss the one Sharks goal of the evening.

Jan 1, 2004
Government Ethics Stories