All communities should have fully developed provisions dealing with the ethical expectations essential to responsible government. Ethics provisions foster public trust in the integrity of city government and serve as a check on improper or abusive behavior by city officials and employees. Communities should also have a comprehensive campaign finance code requiring, at the least, disclosure of sources of money used in the campaign for city office. The amount of money flowing into local races continues to grow and must be regulated to help avoid the public perception of corruption.
Section 8.01. Conflicts of Interest; Board of Ethics.
(a) Conflicts of Interest. The use of public office for private gain is prohibited. The city council shall implement this prohibition by ordinance, the terms of which shall include, but not be limited to: acting in an official capacity on matters in which the official has a private financial interest clearly separate from that of the general public; the acceptance of gifts and other things of value; acting in a private capacity on matters dealt with as a public official; the use of confidential information; and appearances by city officials before other city agencies on behalf of private interests. This ordinance shall include a statement of purpose and shall provide for reasonable public disclosure of finances by officials with major decision-making authority over monetary expenditures and contractual and regulatory matters and, insofar as permissible under state law, shall provide for fines and imprisonment for violations.
(b) Board of Ethics. The city council shall, by ordinance, establish an independent board of ethics to administer and enforce the conflict of interest and financial disclosure ordinances. No member of the board may hold elective or appointed office under the city or any other government or hold any political party office. Insofar as possible under state law, the city council shall authorize the board to issue binding advisory opinions, conduct investigations on its own initiative and on referral or complaint from officials or resident, subpoena witnesses and documents, refer cases for prosecution, impose administrative fines, and to hire independent counsel. The city council shall appropriate sufficient funds to the board of ethics to enable it to perform the duties assigned to it and to provide annual training and education of city officials and employees, including candidates for public office, regarding the ethics code.
Many states have conflict of interest and financial disclosure laws which include local officials as well as state officials. Cities in these states may wish to modify this section accordingly by either eliminating duplication with state law or providing for local filing of state forms to provide local access to the information.
Instead of providing essentially statutory language, this section mandates council passage of ordinances covering certain basic subjects and which provide for a specific mechanism to administer and enforce the law. This permits amendment as may be required without a referendum, which would be necessary if the charter covered the subject in detail. This provision shows that the charter is serious about the need for dealing with ethics problems but at the same time leaves it to the city council to adopt the formulation most appropriate for the specific situation. It makes a provision for a Board of Ethics but leaves details on the board’s composition and procedure to the council.
Other provisions councils could adopt, but not listed in the Model, relate to acting in an official capacity over any campaign donor who contributes $ or more to the official’s campaign; the hiring of relatives; acting in an official capacity on matters affecting a prior employer within a designated time period after leaving the employer; accepting outside employment while in office; and accepting employment with an employer over whom the official or employee acted in an official capacity, within a designated time period after leaving office. Westminster, Colorado, pioneered the conflict of interest approach to limiting campaign contributions, via charter amendment, and other cities have expressed interest in following its example either by charter or ordinance. A substantial number of cities restrict hiring of relatives and prior, outside, and subsequent employment arrangements.
Section 8.02. Prohibitions.
(a) Activities Prohibited.
Any person convicted of a violation of this section shall be ineligible for a period of five years following such conviction to hold any city office or position and, if an officer or employee of the city, shall immediately forfeit his or her office or position. The city council shall establish by ordinance such further penalties as it may deem appropriate.
The activities prohibited by this section are antithetical to the maintenance of a sound, permanent municipal service. The prohibition against discrimination states basic municipal policy which applies to all personnel relationships. Prohibiting fraud or attempted fraud and bribery in connection with appointments and promotions by charter provision stresses the importance of maintaining the integrity of the public service. Prohibitions against political solicitation and participation in political campaigns afford protection for the employee as well as the integrity of the system. State law of general application may be sufficiently comprehensive to cover the activities prohibited by this section. If so, the charter need not contain these provisions except to give confirmation of public acceptance of these policies.
In FOP v. Montgomery County, Maryland’s highest court recognized the right of “government speech” in the context of a ballot issue associated with remedying a charter provision that provided for “effects” bargaining in the police department and which inhibited police reform. The Court concluded that who better than the government to speak on issues of its operations and allowed public funds and employees to be used to support the county’s position in a referendum that the FOP sought to overturn the charter change. Wording in section 8.02. 5 has been changed in this edition to preserve—in those jurisdictions like Maryland that would allow support of certain ballot initiatives—the authority of employees to act on behalf of the city to support a ballot measure. The Court’s opinion was very limited and does not offer support for the view that the government can use public funds or employees to support measures that do not affect the operation of the government. Thus, the language in the proposed amendment provides that this support can only be offered “where authorized.”
Section 8.03. Campaign Finance.
(a) Disclosure. The city council shall enact ordinances to protect the ability of city residents to be informed of the financing used in support of, or against, campaigns for locally elected office. The terms of such ordinances shall include, but not be limited to, requirements upon candidates and candidate committees to report in a timely manner to the appropriate city office: contributions received, including the name, address, employer, and occupation of each contributor who has contributed or more; expenditures made; and obligations entered into by such candidate or candidate committee. In so far as is permissible under state law, such regulations shall also provide for fines and imprisonment for violations. The ordinance shall provide for convenient public disclosure of such information by the most appropriate means available to the city.
(b) Contribution and Spending Limitations. In order to combat the potential for, and appearance of, corruption, and to preserve the ability of all qualified community members to run for public office, the city shall, in so far as is permitted by state and federal law, have the authority to enact ordinances designed to limit contributions and expenditures by, or on behalf of, candidates for locally elected office. Ordinances pursuant to this section may include but are not limited to: limitations on candidate and candidate committees that affect the amount, time, place, and source of financial and in-kind contributions; and, voluntary limitations on candidate and candidate committee expenditures tied to financial or non-financial incentives.
This section was added to the eighth edition in recognition of the substantial number of cities that have enacted campaign finance laws since the seventh edition. This trend indicates that increasingly large amounts of private money have permeated local elections and reflects public perception that such money has had a distorting influence on the democratic process.
Section 8.03(a) provides for disclosure of candidate contributions and expenditures. A strong majority of cities in the United States have some form of campaign contribution and expenditure disclosure requirements. This section of the charter requires the city to provide for timely disclosure of such funds. It further requires that disclosure of contributions above a certain threshold include the donor’s employer and occupation. Such information allows the public to identify the sources of funding that influence local elections. The requirement that the city provide for “convenient public disclosure” is meant to encourage electronic disclosure over city web sites when such technology and resources are available.
Section 8.03(b) provides the city with express authority, but not a mandate, to enact any of the several innovative campaign finance laws that cities have enacted over the last three decades. This includes options such as contribution limitations, time limits on fund raising, and public financing as an incentive for candidates to adhere to voluntary spending limits.