Ethics task force begins work on council conduct

By Christina Sampson

January 23, 2013 - 5:13 pm
Councilwoman Peggy Chapados

The city’s ethics task force – comprised of Mayor Christian Price and Maricopa City Councilmembers Peggy Chapados and Julia Gusse – met with city staff and two members of the public Tuesday for its first meeting.

The meeting focused on developing a process to devise a code of ethics for individual members of the city council. The task force was formed in response to criticism of Councilman Alan Marchione’s alleged behavior toward some staff. He resigned in October.

City Manager Brenda Fischer said, “We’re not looking to create a policy book, that’s what our city code is for.” Instead, she said, the code would be a “framework” for expected councilmember behavior.

Codes in other cities generally include a value statement, a broad list of standards for behavior and, sometimes, sanctions for enforcement. 
The code would give members of the council guidelines on how to act in individual situations based on agreed-upon values and standards.
Chapados said it was important for the process to have public involvement.

“I’m hoping we can schedule these brainstorming sessions to involve the public as much as possible,” she said.

Price, looking at examples from other cities, said he liked the fact that councilmembers elsewhere often have to sign a code of conduct prior to taking office. 

Chapados said it also was important for volunteer boards and commissions, as an extension of the city council, to be held to ethical standards. 

“I think that’s going to be an important thing to consider as we develop this code,” she said. 

Residents attending the first meeting of the task force made suggestions.

“I’m glad to see that you looked at other places but, coming from private business, we were governed by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission),” Stephanie Palmer said.

Palmer suggested using that commission’s ethics guidelines as a starting point because it’s “something that’s commonly recognized and would be easy to administer.”

Fischer, however, pointed out that members of a city council are public officials, not private employees, so “it creates a challenge unlike the private sector.”

She said any accountability measures in a code would have to be agreed upon by the councilmembers themselves.

“They’re not an employee, they’re a guiding board,” Fischer said. “That presents challenges on the accountability. The EEOC couldn’t come in and do anything.”

Further, Palmer said there should be a rule ensuring personal business is not conducted at City Hall on city time.

Price suggested looking into the proper use of technology such as using social media to communicate with residents.

The meeting ended with the group working on a draft value statement. 

The task force’s next meeting has not been scheduled.

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