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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Case of the Friendly Consultant

Judy Nadler

When a large parcel of land became available in the city of Foxholm, Mayor Madeline Snyder knew she would hear a wide range of proposals for the property. Previous city councils had discussed the option of buying it for use as a day-care facility and community garden. Adjacent to an elementary school and near a small but well-established neighborhood and a variety of mom-and-pop retail stores, the property seemed well-suited to these uses. But because of budget shortfalls, the new majority on the council was open to hearing other options, especially those with revenue potential.

Even before the item was put on the council agenda, Snyder's phone started ringing. The mayor heard from the neighbors, child care advocates, the local garden clubs, and the PTA from the elementary school. She also received a flood of e-mails, including one from the mayor in the adjoining city, expressing concern over traffic that might be generated by development of the vacant land.

It was with some relief that she accepted a lunch invitation from Scott Kidder, former state senator and long-time friend, who wanted to discuss the issue. He was a neutral party and trusted advisor, and still enormously popular in the district.

After lunch began, however, Kidder revealed his new position - as a land-use consultant to JP Homes, a major developer of mid- to high-density projects. Kidder presented details of a proposed development for the empty parcel and outlined the revenue benefits to the city.

Although the lunch included discussion of other topics, as well, Mayor Snyder began to feel uneasy. Was this a social lunch with a friend or a meeting with an interested party in a matter before the city? When the check arrived, she wondered whether she should allow Kidder to pay the tab.


  1. Was Scott Kidder acting as a consultant or lobbyist? Is there a difference in this case?
  2. Does the long-standing friendship between Snyder and Kidder change your answer?
  3. Did Scott Kidder violate any laws or ethics standards in his actions?
  4. What should the mayor do next?

This case was developed by Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and former mayor of the city of Santa Clara, Calif. The story is fictional, but the case represents a typical dilemma confronted by elected officials.

March 2006

Mar 1, 2006
Government Ethics Stories