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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Successfully Serving

Robin Lowe, Judy Nadler and Eric Vail

These scenarios were created for a presentation to the League of California Cities 2009 annual conference by Robin Lowe, city councilmember, Hemet, Calif.; Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and Eric Vail, city attorney, Hemet and Temple City, Calif.

Scenario No. 1 - Involvement: User of Services

The son of Mayor Maximum plays Little League baseball for the Blue Jays. The city annually awards the Little League a $5,000 community service grant to assist in its operations and waives the city park use fee for the League's use of city ball fields. It is not clear from the information submitted by the League whether the city's contribution reduces the cost that would otherwise have to be passed on to families of the Little Leaguers. The city does not have a policy prohibiting grants to organizations in which family members of city officials or employees participate.

  • Should Mayor Maximum participate and vote on the grant award to the Little League?
  • Would it matter if other members of the Council had children participating in the Little League?

Scenario No. 2 - Involvement: Volunteer

Councilwoman Stuart, whose daughter was involved for many years in the city's Junior Theater Program, serves as the non-compensated volunteer treasurer for the Junior Theater Program. Although Councilwoman Stuart's daughter is now off to college, she still serves. This role requires Councilwoman Stuart to deposit all funds received by the Junior Theater Program into the Theater's bank account and to endorse the checks on the Theater's behalf. In this role, Councilwoman Stuart also has input into how the Theater uses its funds and writes checks from the Theater's account to pay local vendors for Theater expenses.

  • Should Councilwoman Stuart participate and vote on the grant award to the Junior Theater?
  • Should Councilwoman Stuart handle the receipt of the grant check from the city?
  • Should Councilwoman Stuart write checks to pay local vendors?

Scenario No. 3 - Involvement: Fundraiser

Mayor Higgins has supported Save Our Slopes ("SOS"), a nonprofit organization, through personal donations and fundraising activities. SOS has fought for years to protect the undeveloped hillsides of the city. Popular opinion in the community is split as to whether hillside development or conservation is appropriate. The city has engaged a consultant to prepare a new hillside development ordinance and the consultant is conducting community focus groups. As part of a new SOS fundraising drive, the board of SOS has asked Mayor Higgins if he would solicit both moral and monetary support from Council colleagues. The Mayor plans to submit a letter of support for the SOS cause for Council endorsement. The Mayor also plans to be an active fundraiser for the SOS cause and to give public speeches endorsing the SOS cause.

  • Should Mayor Higgins submit the SOS support letter to the Council?
  • Should Mayor Higgins solicit donations from Council Members or fundraise for SOS?
  • Should the Mayor act as spokesperson for the SOS?
  • How would the decisions change if SOS received grant funds from the city?
Sep 1, 2009
Government Ethics Stories