"Whose Job is Ethics Anyway?"
Jan Perkins, ICMA Senior Advisor
How would you respond to these statements?
The executives in my organization.....
Create an environment in which staff is comfortable raising ethical concerns.
Appreciate staff bringing forward bad news and don't "shoot the messenger" for doing so.
Expect staff to use ethical practices in getting results - not "whatever it takes."
Gear their decisions to the spirit as well as letter of the law.
Treat the public with civility and respect.
Use public resources only for agency purposes and not for their own personal or political uses (such as agency supplies, staff time and equipment).
Appoint and reward people on the basis of performance and contribution to the organization's goals and services.
Treat all members of the public equally, regardless of who has people "connections."
Help elected officials work within their policy role and stay out of day-to-day work of the agency.
Refuse to accept gifts and/or special treatment from those with business before the agency.
Check your answers:
A. If you were able to answer affirmatively to all of these questions, then "congratulations!" Your organization has a strong ethical environment. Keep up the good work, including such steps as:
Incorporating ethics into the hiring and evaluation process for staff
Conducting regular ethics-related training programs and reiterating the values of the organization
Using a formal assessment process to seek opportunities for positive change
Reinforcing the importance of ethical considerations in agency behaviors and decisions
B. If you answered "yes" to two-thirds, then it's time to reflect. Your agency is at a good place but has room to improve by doing the following
Evaluating the areas of weakness indicated by the questionnaire and considering targeted remedial actions
Analyzing the messages that staff and others receive and send about ethics
Reviewing the agency's policies, including the criteria by which staff are evaluated
Considering whether having a code of ethics would be helpful for the agency
Following the best practices indicated in the box above
C. If you answered yes to only half, then "Stop!" Your agency's culture needs significant change. Suggested activities include:
Identifying the aspects of the agency's culture that foster the problematic behaviors and analyze how to remediate them
Consulting with your agency's attorney about potential violations of laws and agency regulations
Following the best practices indicated in the boxes above
D. If you could answer yes to only a couple of the statements, then serious remedial attention to the agency's culture is vital. There is a very high risk that violations of law and/or agency regulations are occurring. Your agency attorney and chief executive should engage in a detailed analysis of where the problem areas are and create a plan to significantly increase the degree to which the agency values and pays attention to ethical considerations in the agency's operations. The best practices identified in the boxes above should also help. ICMA can help you! Check out the ICMA website for ethics materials at www.icma.org.
Jan Perkins, an ICMA Senior Advisor serves as on the ICMA Ethics Team. She is an ICMA Credentialed Manager and is a consultant to local government leaders with Management Partners. She served as city manager and in other senior management positions in five cities in her career.
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