Ethics is what one ought to do–the kind of behaviors that would make the world a better place, especially if everyone engaged in them.The key question is: how does the conscientious public servant sort through competing considerations and determine “the right thing to do?” When it comes serving the public, how does one put one’s values into practice?
To determine what one ought to do, go to the root of the matter and think in terms of values.Research by the Institute for Global Ethics identifies ethical values that transcend virtually all cultures and religions.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”–Warren Buffett
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.
The Institute offers a number of resources to help local officials and their staffs comply with California’s requirement that local officials periodically refresh their knowledge of public service ethics laws and principles.
In addition, California law (sometimes referred to as “AB 1234″) requires local officials to periodically receive training on public service ethics laws and principles.
The purpose of this training is to alert local officials to the extensive array of laws that apply to public service, as well as the unique ethical obligations public servants have.
“Everyday Ethics” is the Institute’s award-winning column. Every two months, the Institute’s ethics program analyzes different ethical dilemmas public officials are likely to face.
Some of these dilemmas have legal dimensions, some have ethical dimensions and many are a combination of both. The column appears in Western City magazine, the monthly publication of one of the Institute’s parent organizations, the League of California Cities.
What options are available to local officials who are interested in promoting public service ethics within their agency? Realistically, there is no silver bullet for achieving a culture of ethics within an agency. It takes hard work, strong leadership and a sustained effort.
Are there other tools out there that have worked for your agency? Please feel encouraged to share your experiences by posting a comment on what has worked and what hasn’t for your agency.
“No great achievement is possible without persistent work”–Bertrand Russel
An important measure is on the local ballot. The community wants answers about impacts. The local agency wants to provide those answers. What can and can’t the agency do? The materials in this section explain the restrictions on using public resources (including staff time, agency supplies and other resources paid for with taxpayer dollars) for ballot measure activities.