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Ethics Column: Helping the Council with an Unpopular Issue

Reprinted with permission from the August 2007 issue of Public Management (PM) magazine published by ICMA, the premier local government leadership and management organization, located in Washington, D.C.

Q. In the last city council election, one political party swept into office. A first order of business for the newly elected city council was to adopt a stricter development policy. Although the city council was unanimous in supporting the new policy, the policy is unpopular with the public so the elected officials want to take a low profile. The council has asked the city manager to help sell the new policy by writing opinion pieces for the local newspaper and seeking speaking opportunities at community meetings. Are there any ethical issues the city manager should consider in taking on this role?

A. The ICMA Code of Ethics has a guideline for Tenet 7 on political activity that allows the city manager to take on this advocacy role: Presentation of Issues. Members may assist the governing body in presenting issues involved in referenda such as bond issues, annexations, and similar matters.

The manager's role in communicating with the public also is a key principle in Tenet 9: Keep the community informed on local government affairs; encourage communication between the citizens and all local government officers; emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public; and seek to improve the quality and image of public service.

Arizona City/County Management Association
1820 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007   •   Phone: (602) 258-5786   •   Fax: (602) 253-3874   •