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Ethic Feature: Challenging Career Decisions
Reprinted with permission from the September 2008 issue of Public Management (PM) magazine published by ICMA, the premier local government leadership and management organization, Washington, D.C.

Q. Following months of public discussion about the failure of the organization to deliver on key initiatives and criticism of the manager's leadership, the city council voted to terminate the manager. The assistant city manager understands that this is entirely council's call but is totally demoralized by what she views as an unfair and arbitrary decision. This manager, who recruited the assistant to join the city less than a year ago, has been an innovative, effective, and exemplary leader. If the manager who hired her gets fired and she doesn't support the council's decision, is it appropriate for this assistant to start searching for a new organization now?

A. Challenging times call for professionals to demonstrate commitment to the organization and to exercise leadership. During this difficult time of transition, the assistant's talents and leadership are needed to encourage staff, support the decisions of the council, and ensure that organizational momentum is maintained. All members of ICMA commit to serve a minimum of two years in a local government in order to make a professional contribution.

Exceptions to the two-year guideline are limited to special circumstances: a person is asked to leave by the appointing authority, the appointing authority doesn't honor conditions of employment, or severe personal problems arise. The ICMA Committee on Professional Conduct advises that the two-year tenure may be waived where there has been an agreement reached during the hiring process between a manager and a member in transition, assistant, or department head that the individual may leave before the end of the two years for career advancement purposes. In this situation, there must also be no pattern of short tenures for the waiver to apply.

The assistant may not agree with the decision of the council but she should respect their role and fulfill hers. Once she completes her two-year tenure, she can then assess her future with the organization.

Q. After several years of playing a lead role on economic development and community-building efforts, the assistant to the city manager was looking outside the organization for the next challenge.

He found it as the assistant manager for a much larger county in a neighboring state. He negotiated with the county manager, signed an offer letter, and submitted his resignation to his current employer.

News of his planned departure sparked expressions of overwhelming gratitude by business leaders in the community, activists, staff, and elected officials for his contributions to the city. Most expressed their dismay at the news. The assistant was surprised by the response and started to reassess his motives for leaving.

During a heartfelt talk with the city manager about life balance and career tracks, the manager asked the assistant to reconsider and offered him a promotion to deputy city manager. The assistant was conflicted because he had great affection for the community. Would there be any ethical issues if he withdrew his acceptance to accept the counter offer?

A. With regard to the ICMA Code of Ethics, it's clear that this assistant has an ethical obligation to reject the counteroffer and fulfill his commitment to the county. The guideline on appointment commitment under Tenet 3 states that even a verbal acceptance of a bona fide offer is binding. Consider the harm a last-minute withdrawal causes to the other organization in time, recruitment costs, and attrition in the pool of qualified candidates.

The time to consider the personal and professional aspects of a career move is before you give your word. Keeping your word is an essential part of demonstrating integrity. Your integrity and professional reputation are on the line when you don't live up to your commitments.
Arizona City/County Management Association
1820 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007   •   Phone: (602) 258-5786   •   Fax: (602) 253-3874   •