By George Pettit
Congratulations to the Conference Planning Committee for another successful ACMA Summer
Conference. Their decision to include a session on the Code of Ethics was much appreciated.
It was interesting to listen to the level of understanding and discussion regarding the
fundamental purposes and principles behind the Code of Ethics at a Friday morning session.
We never got to the role-playing portion of the program because of a clear lack of agreement
and understanding on the core values of the International and State Associations.
We touched upon the Bell, CA compensation issue, since members of ICMA were involved. The
session discussion there seemed to focus on a culture that compromised ethical standards
that appeared to involve both the members and elected officials. What culture are you supporting
or cultivating in your organization?
ACMA adopted the ICMA Code of Ethics as a condition of membership. The reason was simple.
The purpose of the Association is to create excellence in Arizona local government by promoting
professional management in public service. The core values include a commitment to continuing
education and professional development, as well as being ethical in our professional conduct.
It is a voluntary membership choice, with obligations to achieve and maintain membership. In
Arizona we also take an oath of office to follow the law, including federal, state, county, and
The distinction and interpretation of ethical member participation between elections for office
and ballot questions is one that requires review by ICMA in defining and advising on the values
behind Tenet 7.
The Tenet is clear that it is not appropriate to endorse candidates for your employing governing
body. That interpretation has been extended to apply to all elected offices, which is wise given
our growing interdependence and interactions with other levels of government, whether school boards,
boards of supervisors, state officials or federal representatives. How can one be persuasive or
establish a relationship with someone you publicly opposed for election?
However an interpretation that allows for endorsements and participation in ballot questions
causes me to pause and examine the thought behind the first sentence of Tenet 7 "Refrain from
all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators."
Recent Arizona experience with recall, referendum and initiative has shown a movement of the
policy-making decisions from the elected officials whom we support in providing complete information
on policy-making consequences, to an electorate that is influenced by sound bytes and rhetoric. I
fully endorse and believe in our obligation as professional administrators to provide education and
awareness of consequences of decisions in all elections.
I don't believe professional managers should choose to be in an advocacy position by endorsing
ballot questions. The present exception poses a dilemma when the governing body may be divided
in its endorsement of a proposal, or you have strong personal political beliefs on a policy
question which could put you at odds with members of your governing body. Again, there is a
distinction between advocacy and education and persuasion, which hopefully can be recognized
and considered by members before financially supporting a proposal or signing petitions. There
is an ethical obligation to support your elected body should they choose to endorse a ballot
question. In Arizona, it is illegal to spend public funds in advocacy of elections and propositions,
and your salary is public funds. Fun decision making - right?
This personal choice to follow a Code of Ethics, in addition to laws, is what makes our profession
and Association one with distinction that can create an environment of excellence in public service.
The balance of political, legal and ethical interests has been and will continue to be challenging for
public service professionals. However, our tendency to parse and conditionalize the tenets minimizes
the fundamental belief that they represent basic core values of the profession.
I look forward to future conversations on the profession, hopefully with more time for a focus on
core values, at future conferences and webinar sessions.