In California, state and federal laws create a complex set of
requirements laws that guide elected officials and agency staff
in their service to their communities.
As extensive and complex as these laws are, it is important to
remember ethics laws only constitute minimum standards for
officials’ conduct. The law is a floor for public official
conduct, not a ceiling: just because a particular course of
action is legal does not mean it is ethical.
This free e-booklet helps California local officials understand
the state’s various ethics laws. The e-booklet is written
in plain language, but also contains extensive endnotes for those
wanting additional information.
In general, the public is skeptical about people trying to curry
favor with public officials through gift-giving. To understand
the complex rules related to gifts, it’s helpful to first
understand the key principles on which the rules are based and
what the rules are intended to accomplish.
This article analyzes the parallels between public service ethics
laws and fiduciary responsibilities. It also notes specific
areas of the law (investing money and overseeing public pension
plans), where fiduciary obligations are more express.
Agency counsel plays an important role in providing information
on public service ethics laws. Understanding that role (and
its limitations) is important for public agency officials
and public agency attorneys alike.
Although the Institute endeavors to help local officials
understand technical and legal concepts that apply to their
public service, these materials are not technical or legal
advice. Officials are encouraged to consult technical
experts, attorneys and/or relevant regulatory authorities for
up-to-date information and advice on specific situations.