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9-9-04 Code of Ethics for County Commissioners

MODEL ETHICS ORDINANCE:  “….8) Agree to buy or sell anything of value on behalf of the County without advance approval by a majority vote of the county commission.  9) Attempt to negotiate county business with any private party or any representative of another governmental unit without the advance approval of a majority of the county commission….”

AVOC

 

September 3, 2004

 

Model Code of Ethics

 

By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

 

Association County Commissioners of Georgia

                http://www.accg.org/Detail.asp?ID=1599&subcategory=null

 

 

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia has a Model Code of Ethics on its website.  The article and Ordinance was written by Mike O’Quinn, Attorney, who has represented numerous Counties in Lawsuits arising under the ACCG Selp-Insurance Pool.  As a member and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of IRMA, I had significant contact with Mike.  He is an excellent attorney and has very good judgment. 

 

All elected officials would do well to review and adhere to Mike’s writing.   Oconee County used to have a simple Code that hung on the Wall of the Courthouse.  I am not sure what is in effect now.  However, with some citizen concerns about ethics becoming more frequent, it would behoove Oconee and other area counties to adopt such an Ordinance.

 

The provisions of the Code of Ethics should be publicized and emphacized by County and City governments.


Association County Commissioners of Georgia

                http://www.accg.org/Detail.asp?ID=1599&subcategory=null

 

A code of conduct for elected officials

 

6/15/2003

 

By MIKE O’QUINN

 

This article shares some general observations about how elected officials can best conduct themselves in order to stay out of trouble. The comments which follow are not necessarily “rules” that have legal consequences if they are broken, but are suggestions about how elected officials should conduct themselves, both during and outside of public meetings, in order to reduce the risk of situations that sometimes lead to lawsuits.

The material that follows is taken from an actual ordinance adopted by a client, a board of commissioners for a rural Georgia county. The provisions would be applicable to any county with a multi-member board or commission that serves as the governing authority for the local government (as opposed to those jurisdictions which have either a sole commissioner or a full-time elected official who serves as a chief executive officer). It also contemplates a local government using a county manager form of administration. Because there are many local governments in Georgia fit into this category, this information could benefit to many of the readers.

For purposes of this article, I have made this a generic ordinance by utilizing a fictitious county called “Pleasant County” The ordinance could easily be adapted to apply to your local government, whether it be a city or a county. Again, let me emphasize that there is no legal requirement to adopt such an ordinance, nor is it being postulated that a violation of any of these provisions is necessarily “illegal.” However, based upon my experience in refereeing many disputes among local elected officials, a lot of trouble, expense, and even a few lawsuits, could have been avoided if elected officials had observed these principles and governed themselves in the manner directed herein. With that disclaimer, here is “Pleasant County’s” ordinance establishing a code of conduct for its elected officials:

An Ordinance Establishing a Code of Conduct for Elected Officials of Pleasant County

The members of the Pleasant County Board of Commissioners recognize that, when acting as a body, they are the governing authority of the county. As a Commission they possess the full power of local government, both legislative, executive and quasi-judicial, within the parameters established by the Constitution and laws of the State of Georgia. As individual board of commission members, however, each acknowledges that he has no legal power or authority, and that official action can exist only by majority vote of the commission.

Accordingly, it is important and in the public interest to establish a code of conduct for elected officials that addresses conduct both during and outside of public meetings. This Ordinance is adopted in order to preserve the integrity of local government, to promote the efficiency with which local government services are provided, and to protect Pleasant County from exposure to liability due to conduct that is unauthorized, ultra vires, or in excess of an elected official’s authority.

NOW THEREFORE, it is hereby ORDAINED by the Pleasant County County commission that this Code of Conduct for elected officials is hereby adopted:

I. CONDUCT DURING MEETINGS

During the public portions of Public Meetings and Public Hearings, elected officials of Pleasant County shall not:

(1) Speak without first being recognized by the Chair;

(2) Interrupt anyone who has the floor;

(3) Use profanity during the public portion of any meeting;

(4) Refuse to yield the floor, or argue with the Chair, if he is ruled out of order by the Chair;

(5) Make disparaging remarks about any person’s character during the public portion of any meeting. By way of example, it would be permissible to say “I don’t believe that” or “I cannot accept that,” but it is improper to say “He’s a liar,” or “He can’t be trusted.” Remarks should be limited to the subject under discussion, and shall not address the character of the persons involved. Nothing herein shall limit or restrict the free and open debate of these matters in executive or closed session.

(6) Confront anyone about a prior statement in an accusatory manner during the public portion of any meeting. By way of example, it would be permissible to ask someone if something different had been said on a prior occasion, and the question should be phrased “Did you tell me _________?” or “Do you remember telling me _______?” It is impermissible to say “Didn’t you tell me ____________,” or “Why did you tell me ___________ before the meeting.” The purpose of the public portion of a meeting is to allow each elected official, county representatives and members of the public to state their positions in an orderly fashion; it is not a trial where persons are to be cross-examined, interrogated, belittled or held out for public ridicule or embarrassment. Nothing herein shall limit or restrict the free and open debate of these matters in executive or closed session.

(7) State during the public portion of any meeting that a county employee has not done his or her job, or has not done his or her job properly. By way of example, it would be permissible to ask if a county employee did or did not do a specific task, but the question must be phrased in a such a way that a simple “yes” or “no” answer is all that is requested. It would also be permissible to state or comment that a job was not done, or that it was not done correctly, so long as the person responsible is not singled out for blame; remarks concerning the subject of job performance are proper, but negative references to the person responsible are not. It is not proper to accuse county employees of not doing their jobs, or doing them improperly, during the public portions of the meeting. County employees shall not be placed in the position of responding to accusations of wrongdoing by an elected official during the public portion of a meeting (unless the meeting has been called as a hearing for the express purpose of determining disciplinary action), nor shall their integrity or competency be challenged by an elected official during the public portion of any meeting. Nothing herein shall limit or restrict the free and open debate of these matters in executive or closed session.

(8) Represent their personal position or beliefs as being the position or beliefs of the Commission as a whole. By way of example, unless and until a majority vote has been obtained on a specific issue, an elected official shall not state that the Commission will or will not do something, nor shall an elected official state what the Commission’s vote will be on an issue. No single elected official can speak on behalf of the Commission unless specifically authorized by majority vote to do so.

(9) Refuse to recognize the validity of action approved by majority vote of the Commission. By way of example, an elected official is free to state that he does not agree with the majority vote, or that he would like to see the majority reconsider it’s action and vote a different way. However, an elected official shall not refuse to sign any ordinance, resolution, contract or other legal document because he did not vote for the action taken. The minutes shall reflect his opposition to the majority’s decision, but he shall not be authorized to withhold his signature on the basis that he did not vote for the action taken.

(10) Divulge the subject matter of any confidential information, legal advice, or strategy discussions revealed during an executive session called for the purpose of discussing actual or potential litigation against the county or any county employee. There may be occasions when an elected official will be asked to make a specific commitment to this rule in connection with a particular case. If an elected official is unwilling to pledge his commitment to the other members of the commission, he shall be excluded from participating in that portion of the executive session.

            Conduct Outside of Meetings

An elected official Pleasant County shall not:

1) Direct any department head or county employee to do a job or perform a task. All such requests shall be made to the County manager. Once such a request is made, the elected official shall follow-up with the county manager regarding the performance of the work, not with the department head or county employee whom the elected official expects to do the job. If the job is not performed to the elected official’s satisfaction, this shall be taken up with the county manager first; if the elected official is still not satisfied, the matter shall next be discussed with all members of the Commission in executive session, under the exemption to the Open Meetings Act for discussion of employee performance. There shall be no criticism or disparaging remarks made about any county employee in a public meeting unless and until all of these steps have been exhausted.

2) Publicly state that he intends to fire or discipline any county employee. No single elected official has the authority to hire or fire county personnel.

3) Reprimand any county employee. If an elected official believes a county employee should be reprimanded he shall so inform the county manager. If an elected official believes the county manager should be reprimanded he shall notify the other members of the commission. No single elected official has the authority to discipline county personnel.

4) Use profanity, insulting or demeaning words about a county employee in the presence of that employee, or in the presence of any other county employee.

5) Call into question the qualifications or competency of a county employee in the presence of that employee, or in the presence of any other county employee. Concerns of this nature shall be addressed in the stages outlined in Section II, Rule 1, above.

6) Demand that the county manager or any department head stop what he or she is doing and immediately attend to the elected official’s business. If the county manager or a department head requests that the elected official schedule a time to discuss a matter that is mutually convenient to all concerned, the elected official shall honor that request.

7) Promise on behalf of Pleasant County or the county commission to undertake any act, or to pass any ordinance, resolution, contract or agreement. A single elected official has no authority to bind the County of Pleasant County.

8) Agree to buy or sell anything of value on behalf of the County without advance approval by a majority vote of the county commission.

9) Attempt to negotiate county business with any private party or any representative of another governmental unit without the advance approval of a majority of the county commission. By way of example, it is permissible for any elected official to discuss county business in general terms with private parties and representatives of other governmental units (unless there is actual or threatened litigation against Pleasant County by the parties involved). However, an elected official shall not make any written offers, draft any agreements, edit or revise any proposed agreements or plans, or suggest or propose (whether orally or in writing) any specific terms concerning money or services to be provided or received by the county unless that elected official has received express authorization in advance by a majority vote of the county commission. The fact that the subject matter involves property or persons in an elected official’s district is of no consequence, as an elected official has no additional legal authority over a matter simply because it is in his district.

10) Speak to any representative of the news media on behalf of the county or the commission without advance approval by majority vote of the commission. By way of example, an elected official is free to express his personal views or opinions to anyone. However, an elected official shall not make a statement in the name of the county commission or in the name of Pleasant County unless he has been authorized in advance to do so by majority vote of the county commission.

Penalties

The county commission shall have the responsibility to police itself and to enforce this Ordinance. Any elected official shall have the right to bring a suspected violation of this Ordinance to the attention of the full commission. Any such accusation may be deliberated upon in Executive Session, but a vote upon any penalty to be imposed must be taken in open, public session, with all members of the commission present. If the commission determines by majority vote that a violation of this Ordinance has occurred, the commission shall have the authority to impose one or more of the following penalties upon the offending elected official:

1) A verbal censure that shall be noted in the Minutes without further elaboration;

2) A written censure, to be made a part of the Minutes, specifically outlining the facts underlying the violation;

3) Removal of the elected official from membership on any committee, association or group in which the offending elected official is in involved in his capacity as a Pleasant County elected official; removal shall take place by the delivery of a letter, signed by the commission, to the head of such committee, association or group, stating that the offending elected official is no longer authorized to represent Pleasant County. This sanction shall last for a period of up to one year from the date of offense.

4) A fine, not to exceed $00 per offense, which shall be paid by the offending elected official to the general fund of Pleasant County, Georgia within 10 days of the commission’s vote establishing a violation; if the offending elected official fails to make this payment within the time specified herein, the amount of the penalty shall be withheld from the offending elected official’s compensation as an elected official.

The decision of the Pleasant County Commission on any question concerning a violation of this Ordinance, or the penalty imposed, shall be final, it being the express intent of all the elected officials to govern themselves, and not to abdicate this responsibility to any other person or entity.

This Ordinance shall take effect immediately. It shall remain in effect for so long as the current membership of the Pleasant County Commission remains unchanged. It is acknowledged that the enforceability of this Ordinance is authorized by and dependant upon the consent of the undersigned, who hereby agree to be bound by this Ordinance. Therefore, this Ordinance shall terminate upon the addition of any new person to the Pleasant County Commission. This Ordinance may thereafter be re-adopted upon the consent and affirmative vote of the members of the County Commission as it is then constituted, subject to this termination and re-adoption provision for all future commissions.

SO ORDAINED, this ____ day of __________________, 20___.

PLEASANT COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

 

BY:__________________________________

            Chairman

 

_____________________________________

Member

 

_____________________________________

Member

 

 

_____________________________________

Member

 

_____________________________________

Member


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