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Ethics Feature: Have You Read Your Code of Ethics Lately?
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 local ordinances.

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.
Arizona City/County Management Association
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