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What If I Want to March? 10 The Importance of Ethical Leadership 19 Strengthening Your Moral Compass 14




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MARCH 2020 VOL. 102 NO. 3



10 What If I Want to March?

Taking part in our democracy while modeling the civility and non-partisanship at the core of our profession. Kate P. Fitzpatrick, ICMA-CM, Needham, Massachusetts; William (Bill) J. Fraser, ICMA-CM, Montpelier, Vermont; Opal D. Mauldin-Jones, ICMA-CM, Lancaster, Texas; and Martha Perego, ICMA-CM, Washington, D.C.

14 Strengthening Your Moral Compass to Overcome Ethical Roadblocks

Integrating shared values between your personal and professional life builds integrity. Kevin Woodhouse, Pacifica, California

19 The Importance of Ethical Leadership and Moral Courage in Public Management

It is the exercise of ethical leadership practiced by those engaged in the moral struggle that made the difference between success or failure. Merrett Stierheim, Miami, Florida

24 Ethics in Real Time: Varied Lenses and Professional Judgment

Reconciling the personal, professional, community, and national dimensions of ethical decision. Phillip J. Cooper, Portland, Oregon

30 Timeline of the ICMA Code of Ethics 96 years in the making, follow the history of the ICMA Code of Ethics as it evolved over the decades.

10 D E PA RT M E N T S


2 Letter from the Guest Editor

This Special “Ethics Issue” of PM

5 Women in Leadership What History Teaches Us About Being an Ally

6 Insights

What Does the ICMA Code of Ethics Mean to You?

8 ICMA Local Government Excellence Award Spotlight Connecting the Dots: The Evolution of Kansas City’s Strategic Planning Process

35 Professional Services Directory

32 ICMA Code of Ethics with Guidelines

The Code of Ethics was adopted by the ICMA membership in 1924, and most recently amended by the membership in October 2019.

International City/County Management Association



This Special “Ethics Issue” of PM If you are an ICMA member or follow our work, hopefully you

MARTHA PEREGO, ICMA-CM, is director of member services and ethics director, ICMA,


recognize the importance that ICMA places on ethics in our profession. It’s evident in part by the fact that the very first thing you see when you open PM magazine is the “Ethics Matter!” column. It’s front and center to remind and encourage you to do what’s right and follow the profession’s principles to achieve the desired outcome: building trust with the people we serve. Since March is Ethics Awareness Month, we wanted to elevate the focus by devoting all the feature articles in this issue to the topic of ethics. With far more space than allocated each month to the “Ethics Matter!” column, we were able to ask our authors to address the more complex ethical issues. How do we give voice to our values and remain true to our commitment to political neutrality? How do we work to strengthen our moral compass and demonstrate moral courage in the face of truly tough decisions? For those responsible for leading an organization or who aspire to do so, how do we become ethical leaders? One author rightfully acknowledged that the ICMA Code of Ethics, a bedrock for the profession, doesn’t supply all the answers to life’s ethical dilemmas! That said, over the course of 96 years, members have devoted time and intellect to rewriting the Code to strengthen the practitioner’s commitment to high ethical standards. On page 30, you can follow that journey through the timeline of pivotal changes to the Code over the years, as well as important steps taken to enforce it. Lastly, please take a moment to renew your commitment to the principles of the Code by reading it! The complete Code of Ethics, along with guidelines, can be found on page 32 to facilitate that step. In closing, we encourage you to share the contents of this Ethics Issue with your staff, elected officials, and others who accompany you on the journey to strengthen our democracy, serve the community, and build public trust and confidence in local government.

Washington, D.C. (

Public Management (PM)

International City/County

Public Management (PM) (USPS: 449-300) is published monthly by ICMA (the International City/County Management Association) at 777 North Capitol Street. N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002-4201. Periodicals postage paid at Washington, D.C., and at additional mailing offices. The opinions expressed in the magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICMA.

COPYRIGHT 2020 by the International City/County Management Association. All rights reserved. Material may not be reproduced or translated without written permission.


March 2020

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ICMA Creating and Supporting Thriving Communities ICMA’s vision is to be the leading association of local government professionals dedicated to creating and supporting thriving communities throughout the world. It does this by working with its more than 12,000 members to identify and speed the adoption of leading local government practices and improve the lives of residents. ICMA offers membership, professional development programs, research, publications, data and information, technical assistance, and training to thousands of city, town, and county chief administrative officers, their staffs, and other organizations throughout the world. Public Management (PM) aims to inspire innovation, inform decision making, connect leading-edge thinking to everyday challenges, and serve ICMA members and local governments in creating and sustaining thriving communities throughout the world.

Renew your commitment to the principles of the Code of Ethics by reading it! Find it on page 32.

2019–2020 ICMA Executive Board PRESIDENT

Jane Brautigam* City Manager, Boulder, Colorado PRESIDENT-ELECT

James Malloy* Town Manager, Lexington, Massachusetts PAST PRESIDENT

Karen Pinkos* City Manager, El Cerrito, California VICE PRESIDENTS

International Region

Tim Anderson Chief Administrative Officer, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada Sue Bidrose Chief Executive Officer, Dunedin City Council, New Zealand Robert Kristof City Manager, Timisoara, Romania

Midwest Region

Southeast Region

Wally Bobkiewicz* City Administrator, Issaquah, Washington**

W. Lane Bailey* City Manager, Salisbury, North Carolina

Clint Gridley* City Administrator, Woodbury, Minnesota Molly Mehner* Deputy City Manager, Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Laura Fitzpatrick* Deputy City Manager, Chesapeake, Virginia Michael Kaigler* Assistant County Manager, Chatham County, Georgia

ICMA Executive Director Marc Ott Director, Member Publications

Lynne Scott

Managing Editor

Kerry Hansen

West Coast Region

Newsletter Editor

Kathleen Karas

Michael Land* City Manager, Coppell, Texas

Maria Hurtado* Assistant City Manager, Hayward, California

Design & Production

Raymond Gonzales County Manager, Adams County, Colorado

Edward Shikada* City Manager, Palo Alto, California

Northeast Region

Peter Troedsson* City Manager, Albany, Oregon

Mountain Plains Region

Heather Geyer* City Manager, Northglenn, Colorado

Matthew Hart* Town Manager, West Hartford, Connecticut Christopher Coleman* Town Manager, Westwood, Massachusetts Teresa Tieman* Town Manager, Fenwick Island, Delaware

* ICMA Credentialed Manager (ICMA-CM) ** Serving the region from a different location as is permissible in the ICMA Constitution.



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What History Teaches Us About Being an Ally The Friendship of Frances Perkins and FDR In 1933, a worker’s rights advocate

and forward-thinking leader named Frances Perkins was named secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was the first woman in history to hold a presidential cabinet position and the longest serving cabinet member with a 12-year term. Few cabinet members since have rivaled her impact in reshaping the twentieth century. She was the woman behind the New Deal, social security, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, abolition of child labor, and creator of the weekend. After her retirement in 1945, it would be 30 years before another woman would serve in a presidential cabinet. This opportunity for Perkins was cultivated through a longstanding friendship based on trust and mutual respect. She first worked with Roosevelt after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1912. Perkins, a successful labor organizer and the secretary on the Committee on Safety of the City of New York, worked with Roosevelt, then a young New York state senator, on enacting workplace safety reforms. In 1929, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York, and appointed Perkins as the state industrial commissioner, where she oversaw a new state agency with 1,800 employees. FDR valued her wit, intellect, and ability to drive change. As told by Frances Perkins in her book, The Roosevelt I Knew, the traits he displayed made him a true friend and ally to Perkins. What can we learn from Perkins, her work, and executivelevel experience? Hire the Right People

FDR could have easily hired “the right man for the job,” and since no woman had previously served in a presidential cabinet, he could have saved himself political scrutiny. Yet Roosevelt knew that Perkins had the right qualifications, experience, and character to be successful. In practice: Hire for the long-term; don’t rush the hiring process. Seek a diverse pool of candidates by posting on ICMA Affiliate job boards, across regional networks, and with partnering educational institutions.



Before Perkins would accept the cabinet position, she told him, “I don’t want to say yes to you unless you know what I’d like to do and are willing to have me go ahead and try.” Perkins then outlined her list of policy priorities (she accomplished all but one) and FDR supported them all. In practice: Strong allies trust their team, communicate a clear vision, and give them room to fail. They empower their team to be their authentic selves. Empathy

As Perkins noted in her book, FDR underwent a spiritual transformation during and after his illness. “The man emerged completely warmhearted, with humility of spirit and with a deeper philosophy. Having been to the depths of trouble, he understood the problems of people in trouble.” In practice: An ally leads with empathy, listens to their team, forms connections, and see things from others’ point of view. Support Opportunities for Growth

Perkins convinced FDR to support unemployment insurance; however, he wanted a deeper dive into the topic and sent Perkins to England to study the British system. She returned with a list of recommendations that moved the conversation forward. In practice: Encouraging professional growth and development of your team creates strong organizations. We can’t be afraid of losing our best people. And if we’re fulfilling our role as managers, we’re empowering a new generation of public service leadership. The close working relationship between Perkins and FDR is important to reflect on. Serving as an ally is a step in the right direction toward a more inclusive, high-performing, and innovative workplace.

KELLY HOUGHTELING is deputy town administrator, Wellington, Colorado (houghtkm@ wellingtoncolorado. gov). She also serves as president of the League of Women in Government (www. leagueofwomen


Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (New York: Viking Press, 1946).



We Asked Our Readers »

What does the ICMA Code of Ethics mean to you? How has the Code been valuable to your career?

Jeffrey Stonehill, ICMA-CM

Laura Allen, CPFO, ICMA-CM

Borough Manager Chambersburg, Pennsylvania ICMA member since 1995

City Treasurer Greenbelt, Maryland ICMA member since 2004

“It’s the backbone of what makes us special. I’ve been proud to include the ICMA Code of Ethics in all my conversations with my governing body, with my citizens, just letting people know that this is an important part of who I am. It’s fundamental to my profession; it’s fundamental to me as a professional. And I think that people knowing that I want to abide by the Code of Ethics, that I want to remain a credentialed manager, separates us from other professions that haven’t made that commitment. It’s something of pride we can really talk about. In an era when people are skeptical about government, it really sets us apart.”

“Ethics to me means doing the right thing all the time. And I’m guided by the ICMA Code of Ethics. It guides the work that I do as I interact with my elected officials and as I interact with my community. I’ve attached it to my contract, and it’s a great way for me to ensure that the council and I are pursuing and following through on the values that it holds and supporting the values of our community.”

Scott Andrews, EdD

Bristol Ellington, ICMA-CM

City Manager Covington, Georgia ICMA member since 2007

Chief Operating Officer/Deputy City Manager Henderson, Nevada ICMA member since 2007

“The Code of Ethics is pivotal for my success as a city manager. It serves as my moral and legal compass. Ultimately, it is the foundation for my personal brand and sets the tone for the culture throughout the organization.”


“Ethics is the cornerstone of our organization. It’s important that our employees are respectful, honest, and have integrity. To me, ethics is what you do when no one is watching. And so for us, at the city of Henderson, we have the expectation that people are going to be ethical, professional, and have integrity.”

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Connecting the Dots

The Evolution of Kansas City’s Strategic Planning Process Kansas City, Missouri—2019 Recipient, Program Excellence Award, Strategic Leadership and Governance (50,000 and Greater Population)

Like many communities,

Kansas City, Missouri, had a series of valuable (but disconnected) management policies and processes, including a strategic plan, an annual budget, financial forecasts, annual financial reports, and departmental strategic plans. The city also implemented KCStat, a publicfacing, data-driven management system in which management monitors the performance of city departments in real time. Each of these had value, but the pieces had not been put together to present a cohesive direction for the city. In 2013, City Manager Troy M. Schulte directed the finance department to develop a comprehensive, renewable five-year citywide business plan (CWBP) with three essential components: (1) the city’s strategic plan, including mission, vision, values, goals, and objectives; (2) a financial strategic plan, containing financial objectives; and (3) a five-year planning model that provides baseline and balanced scenarios to evaluate financial and operational alternatives through the planning and budget process. A city charter change in 2014 required the production of the financial strategic plan and the five-year planning model every year, giving impetus to the development of this new blueprint to guide the city’s policy and financial decisions. As the CWBP was developed, the city’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) conducted resident work sessions throughout

the city to ensure that the plan was informed by input from the community. Kansas City’s strategic plan has grown to include seven goals, with 30 departmental objectives and 131 strategies. Through the development of strategies, city departments and divisions can define what steps they must take to achieve the objectives. Each goal, strategy, and action has an owner who is accountable for moving projects forward and reporting specific obstacles when they occur. In 2016, the city chose Stratex Solutions as a partner to execute and track the progress of actions in the CWBP. The Stratex software is monitored and maintained by OMB, and progress is reported through the


KCStat program by the city’s performance management office. The software allows the city to assign human resources to tasks and track the hours spent. This tracking elucidates the resources required to achieve the strategies and highlights the need to confirm priorities and rethink timelines, if necessary. OMB holds regular team meetings to discuss issues that might prevent actions or projects from moving forward. This teamoriented review reinforces the collaborative nature of the plan while holding individuals accountable for action. It allows for creative problem-solving and provides a mechanism for management

to expediently respond where attention is needed. Kansas City’s strategic planning process has three critical pieces: 1. A public-facing document that provides a holistic look at city priorities developed by departmental leadership. 2. An active engagement process that directly links city staff to residents. 3. An inward-facing mechanism to promote collaboration and accountability in achieving goals. The project directly connects community managers with administrators, reinforcing the message that the city is actively managing with flexibility and a long-term vision.

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What If I Want to

March? Taking part in our democracy while modeling the civility and non-partisanship at the core of our profession ICMA

members are increasingly engaging in conversations with colleagues and ICMA staff about the intersection of the ICMA Code of Ethics and their strong desire to engage in issues they are passionate about. As part of the inaugural ICMA Athenian Project,1 the four of us huddled to wrestle with this issue. What is the role of a manager in our representative democracy? How can a manager be a part of our democracy while modeling the civility and non-partisanship that is at the core of our profession? In short, what if I want to march? This profession was built on the foundation of political neutrality for appointed local government managers. Tenet 7 of the ICMA Code of Ethics calls on all members working for a local government to refrain




from all political activity that might undermine confidence in professional administration. The importance of being politically neutral isn’t limited to the person at the very top, appointed to lead the organization. The innovation, engagement, and professional input from staff to improve the community will only be successful if at the end of the day, the residents have true confidence that those efforts are motivated by a desire to serve the public’s interest. The Code also recognizes the role of staff to engage with elected officials on the policies that will guide the future. Tenet 5 of the Code requires us to submit policy proposals to elected officials, supported by facts and professional advice, so that they may set the community’s goals. Always core to the profession, this obligation to stay out of politics but help to shape policy now takes place in a highly polarized environment. Issues and causes are increasingly associated with one political party or another. Social media has obliterated the firewall that may have existed between a member’s personal and professional views. Think what a five-minute perusal of your Twitter account might reveal to the public about your personal values. We find it increasingly difficult to have any kind of conversation—let alone a civilized one—with others about certain causes. Members who share support for a particular issue in a public manner may find themselves at odds with the position of their elected body and may forever be associated with a particular party or platform.


So, what is a fully engaged member with strong values to do if he or she wants to march? We identified four areas where our public and private views might intersect and potentially create difficulty: in operational matters, in the profession, our personal values, and relationships with elected officials. Operational

The most complex ethical dilemmas are those that require us to choose not between right and wrong, but from equally right but competing values. Consider the ethical dilemmas that a manager may face when his or her personal perspective about how to best respond to a divisive community incident is at odds with their professional responsibilities. The manager may find him or herself mentally aligned with a group protesting the city’s actions while trying to maintain loyalty to the local

government. The best response from a legal perspective may be that the city and its staff acted in a manner consistent with rules, regulations, and policies. But is that the only appropriate answer? Is it ever appropriate for a community to say, “We were wrong”? If so, how can the manager work with elected officials (and legal counsel) to make that happen? Personal

A strength of our profession is the diversity of backgrounds, life experience, and core values that members bring to public service. As a result, some who see what they believe to be injustice in our society are called to speak up. The guideline on personal advocacy of issues under Tenet 7 acknowledges that “Members share with their fellow citizens the right and responsibility to voice their opinion on public issues. Members may advocate for issues of personal interest


HOW CAN A MANAGER BE A PART OF OUR DEMOCRACY WHILE MODELING THE CIVILITY AND NON-PARTISANSHIP THAT IS AT THE CORE OF OUR PROFESSION? only when doing so does not conflict with the performance of their official duties.” We must personally consider the level of risk that we are willing to take in giving public voice to our values. We need to think carefully about balancing our interest in advocating or supporting an issue with our ability to serve in our role. Will speaking up have an impact on our role as a convener, impartial representative, or objective source of information? Professional

Exactly how committed are members to the ICMA Code of Ethics? What does that commitment look like? How do we measure it? Is there a

continuum of commitment or are you either “all in” or not? These are not unreasonable questions to ask. The Code is after all not a list of rules to follow, but a statement of values that we use to guide our conduct in some truly complex and difficult professional decisions. We should recognize that members approach the Code with differing perspectives. There are those who take the most conservative of approaches in applying the Code while others adopt a more laissez faire approach. For some, any kind of political speech—including marching for a cause—undermines the profession. Others would

rather quit than give up their right to be heard. Relationships with Elected Officials

There have always been situations when it falls to us as managers to implement policies, approved by the elected officials, that we do not support. But what happens when such policies conflict with our core values? Is it ethical to remain on board to implement the policy? Or should we leave? On the flip side, what is our obligation to recommend policies that align with our values—even if those policies may be unpopular with elected officials or the public? Being proactive and giving voice to all sides of an issue is a core responsibility of a professional manager. In a period in our democracy that seems marked by incivility, even simply providing both sides of an issue can feel risky. Where we live and work—and how closely our personal values match those of the residents we serve—will increasingly guide our choice of jobs. In order to help members navigate these intersections, we developed a decision-making framework (see Figure 1). When contemplating a decision, the framework guides you in assessing how the decision aligns with your personal and professional values, as well as the community’s. A series of questions are posed to identify the risk associated with the proposed action. A key component of the framework is the opportunity to identify specific values and validate conclusions. This can be done through self-reflection and by consulting with colleagues and ICMA staff. The most important questions we must ask are about the impact

Figure 1. Decision-Making Framework





DECISION-MAKING FRAMEWORK Does this decision align with my personal values? Yes 

No 

Does the decision align with my professional values? Yes 

No 

Does the decision align with the community’s values? Yes 

No 

What is the risk to me personally? How does this decision affect my family? What is the risk to me professionally? What is the risk to my community? How will elected policy makers be affected? What am I willing to be fired for? How would I feel if someone with opposing views took this action?

of the decision on our ability to do our job, the future of our career, and on the reputation of our communities. To continue this discussion and debate, we are in the process of creating a short and interactive training curriculum including the framework for members to use. If we know what we value, if we understand our community’s values, and if we have reasoned conversations about our role in this democracy, we should be well-positioned to navigation this intersection. We can use the framework to guide our decision-making. And, as always, we will rely on each other for advice and support. ENDNOTE 1

KATE P. FITZPATRICK, ICMA-CM, is town manager, Needham, Massachusetts (kfitzpatrick@ WILLIAM (BILL) J. FRASER, ICMA-CM, is city manager, Montpelier, Vermont (wfraser@ OPAL D. MAULDINJONES, ICMA-CM, is city manager, Lancaster, Texas (ojones@ MARTHA PEREGO, ICMA-CM, is director of member services and ethics, ICMA, Washington, D.C. (

How will my action impact the profession as a whole?



ne potential roadblock that management professionals can face in delivering excellent public service is tough ethical decision-making. My objective here is to present an intriguing theory on how people can prepare to overcome ethical roadblocks. There are common causes for lapses in ethical judgment that can include ego, power, greed, fear, compulsion, embarrassment, rationalization, or basic lack of a moral compass. My focus is on a strategy for countering misguided rationalization and building a




to Overcome Ethical Roadblocks

Integrating shared values between your personal and professional life builds integrity. MARCH 2020 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | 15

stronger moral compass, which, in turn, should help prevent ethical lapses. Let’s begin with a personal story, something that happened during a summer vacation not that long ago. My two boys were playing disc golf. We often play improvised courses together in the mountains, where normal golf course holes are trees, rocks, or other features in the landscape. The boys were playing on their own when suddenly they came bursting through the door and said someone had stolen one of their discs. They explained that after teeing off for a hole, which was a boulder pile several properties away from ours that didn’t have a house on it, a man drove up in a truck—it probably was his property— picked up the disc, put it in his truck, and drove off. I also found out that when the man pulled up and got out, the boys ran away. They knew they were on someone else’s property, and now they were busted. Or maybe not. What if they had remained calm and walked over to the man, introduced

themselves as the kids from a couple properties down, and apologized for being on his property? Perhaps he would have screamed at them anyway. Or the outcome might have been entirely different, perhaps even getting permission to continue playing their game, as well as the opportunity to meet the property owner. I recount this story about physically running away to cause us to pause and think about examples in which a leader of an organization ran away from a situation, perhaps not physically but metaphorically. Taking Responsibility

Think about uncomfortable situations that may seem for leaders easier to ignore, shirk off, walk away from, and forget than they are to confront. The ever-evolving Wells Fargo scandal comes to mind. But unfortunately, today the list goes on and on of chief executives and public officials who knew about a scandal, shirked their

RESPONSIBILITY AND VALUES • Understanding responsibility requires understanding the values that give substance to responsibility, in both the professional and personal spheres of responsibility, which are often thought to be separate and distinct. • Understanding the values that are shared in our personal and professional spheres helps us integrate the two. • Integrating the spheres enables us to compare personal and professional decision-making rationalizations, test the consistency between them, and determine whether there are valid justifications for their inconsistency. 16 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | MARCH 2020


responsibility or worse, and metaphorically ran away. In doing so, it made matters worse for everyone involved. How can managers train themselves not to run away? It’s a natural human instinct, especially for children, but we’re adults and professionals. I’d like to suggest a theory that can help us counteract this instinct. It’s a theory that is informed by the book, Public Integrity, by J. Patrick Dobel.1 It begins by looking at the concept of responsibility, and then segues into the concept of integrity. Both of these concepts are strong and deep concepts that are foundational to organizational

value sets and codes of ethics, and they are frequently mentioned in response to ethics scandals. Let’s start with responsibility because organizations are built on responsibility structures, and that is often the first line of inquiry into dissecting ethical misconduct: who knew what, when, and who was responsible for what. Duty, accountability, blame, and discretion are all words associated with responsibility. Discussions about responsibility often mention personal responsibility or professional responsibility, suggesting these are different


nonintersecting spheres (see Figure 1). We all have different responsibilities in our personal lives as a spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend, community member, or team member of a church or social group than we do in our professional lives. While so critical to the functioning of organizations, the concept of responsibility is, in itself, sort of meaningless; it’s simply that there are actions expected of you and you do them. A drug lord, terrorist, or other criminal, for example, can act just as responsibly by following their orders from those who control them, as can a great public servant. What is critical are the values that underlie those actions. Figure 2 depicts some common public service and personal values. Building Integrity

If we focus on the underlying values in our professional sphere of responsibility and our personal sphere of responsibility, I guarantee that most professionals will discover shared values. The action of acknowledging the link between professional

responsibility and personal responsibility by selfexamining and understanding the shared values between both spheres is an important step in realizing that your professional self and personal self are not entirely distinct, separate spheres (see Figure 3). Acknowledging this intersection brings us to the concept of integrity, a powerful component of ethics. By consciously focusing on the values that overlap between your professional and personal lives, you can better integrate the two. This integration is what helps a person build integrity in life, personally and professionally, strengthening the weave of the decisionmaking fabric that is authentically you. If you act in the professional realm based on one standard of honesty, but then go home and act according to a different standard of honesty, your core values are not integrated, and you are not being authentic to one side of yourself. The better you are at understanding and integrating shared values between your personal and professional


The better you are at understanding and integrating shared values between your personal life and professional life, the more integrity you will build, enabling you to be stronger and more authentic in the face of challenging situations.

life, the more integrity you will build, enabling you to be stronger and more authentic in the face of challenging situations. Shining a Light on Rationalization

These last assertions require further elaboration. How can a failure to align professional and personal values cause problems or, conversely, how can more alignment decrease the likelihood of ethical lapses or shirking responsibility? The key is that examining our decision-making from different perspectives shines a light on the rationalization behind those decisions and can reveal if there are inconsistent standards between our decisionmaking in our professional and personal responsibility spheres. The human brain is incredibly adept at rationalization and often tips into over-rationalization or erroneous rationalization. In regard to the value of honesty, rationalization can lead to refabricating facts, white lying, or pure lying. Any school teacher or parent probably can cite examples of weird rationalizations around honesty they hear from students and children.

In the workplace, and within the framework of laws, regulations, policies, past practices, and even emotional sensitivity to how employees might react, there are many cases in which professionals rationalize that withholding information and being only partially truthful is the appropriate decision. In cases of confidential negotiations, personnel matters, or legal discussions, this decision may be required. In cases that don’t have a clear reason for why you might withhold information, however, are you communicating honestly with your employees in the same way that you would expect your spouse or children to communicate with you? When your child receives a bad grade on a school assignment, you expect an honest answer as to why, so that you can help him or her learn to improve next time. Do you apply this same expectation at work for yourself and your employees in assessing what went wrong on a project in order to improve next time? Or are half-hearted excuses offered, reprimands doled out, and no one learns from their mistakes? In regard to the value of fairness, when delegating tasks to a team of


employees, do you do this fairly between team members as you would expect to occur when working with a team of neighbors on a community improvement project in your personal life? When it comes to fiscal prudence, do you apply the same level of scrutiny and concern to purchases or cost overruns for services in your professional role as you do in your personal life? Or do you view these as different because one is your money and the other is not? In each of these examples, there may be different rules that apply between the professional and personal roles and so the rationale behind treating them differently may be well-founded. My assertion, however, is that when the rules are not clear, examining a decision-making scenario from both the professional and personal perspective can help to “truth test” your rationalization. This deliberate exercise— this conscious assessment of values you share between your professional and personal

selves—can improve the likelihood that your final decision will be well-founded and authentic, expressing and strengthening your integrity. Now imagine the strong foundation for your integrity if the integration of values between your professional and personal spheres of responsibility resembles that shown in Figure 4. Responsibility Theory

This theory is not foolproof in training ourselves to not run away. Sometimes such organizational pressures, as what the former Boeing CEO experienced, may overwhelm the fact that in their personal lives they probably care enormously for the safety



of their family and friends. Or consider the cheating scandal recently exposed in baseball that cost both the general manager and manager of the Houston Astros their jobs. After a career built on promoting fair play and honesty as core values of the sport, those values went missing within the team they were leading. If so, how broken and how divided these different parts of their lives must have felt. Perhaps if they acknowledged the overlap—the integration of values—they would have found more strength for actions they should have taken and professional responsibility they should have shown. In developing this theory, I went back and reviewed the employee code of ethics for the city of Mountain View, California. Several years ago, I had helped lead a team effort to develop the code when I worked for Mountain View. A particular phrase in the preamble to the code jumped out at me and is relevant here. It states, “As a city employee, I will be guided by prudent judgment and personal responsibility.” That simple statement integrates the personal and professional spheres of responsibility. It says an employee will own responsibility as the person he or she is, in addition to the professional the person is. It is a stronger commitment than professional responsibility because it is backed by personal values, not just professional obligations. This discussion of the values that underlie our personal and professional responsibilities and the role they play in building integrity may initially appear to be

intuitive or commonsensical. Many employees in the public service sector already have strong moral compasses and are able to confront challenging ethical roadblocks instead of running away from them. Many already have a strong sense of the values shared in their personal and professional lives from which they derive their integrity and the strength, perhaps unconsciously, to confront tough ethical decisions. It remains true, however, that review of ethical scandals often reveals contradictory values between how an individual views his or her professional responsibilities versus personal responsibilities. In practice, integrating these spheres of ourselves is more complex than it may seem on the surface. For any professional—athlete, musician, doctor, scientist, police officer, public administrator—constant practice and improvement conditions us for the big challenge when it comes, the big roadblock around the corner. Strengthening your moral compass is difficult but extremely important work. I hope you will test this theory of integrating your personal and professional spheres of responsibility and that it will help when you confront your next roadblock. ENDNOTE

J. Patrick Dobel. Public Integrity. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 1

KEVIN WOODHOUSE is city manager of Pacifica, California (kwoodhouse@

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The Importance of Ethical Leadership and Moral Courage IN PUBLIC MANAGEMENT

It is the exercise of ethical leadership practiced by those engaged in the moral struggle that made the difference between success or failure.

By Merrett Stierheim


“If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand for principle when everyone else rejects it.” —Abraham Lincoln

arper Lee, who penned the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote that, “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”1 Said another way, moral courage is the act of taking a stand, of holding firm to your convictions despite encountering disdain, contempt, and even hatred of the principle you are defending. It was exemplified by 15-year old Malala Yousafzai, who in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to believe young Pakistani women are entitled to an education. Undeterred, Yousafzai started an international education organization. It was also seen in the quiet conviction of Rosa Parks, who in 1955, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and sparked a civil rights movement.


citizens, not just segments of the population. After becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the chief ’s delays in carrying out my mandates, I sat with him and personally requested that he resign. He was very popular in some quarters and perhaps thinking I would back down, he steadfastly refused. I then fired him. Although I had many sound reasons for my decision, my only comment was: “It was for the good of the service.” My decision, as


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After my appointment in 1976 as Miami-Dade County manager, it became evident to me that if the future law enforcement needs of Miami-Dade citizens were to be realized, there had to be significant changes in how the county police department functioned, including its leadership. My management experience, as well as my ethical and moral convictions, made it clear that law enforcement needed to work and be representative of all our

ETHICAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATORS ARE THE LAST LINE OF DEFENSE AGAINST THE CORROSIVE ACTIONS OF UNETHICAL POLITICIANS AND THEIR SURROGATES. fully expected, ignited a press and public firestorm. Petitions were quickly circulated, with many citizens urging county commissioners to fire me or calling for my resignation and the reinstatement of the chief. While my decision received support from minority leaders, it was a very stressful time. I didn’t flinch. I stood for what I believed was morally right and after a tense period, the mayor and commissioners never publicly challenged my decision. While a painful process, it was a necessary step toward the creation of a metropolitan police force that would protect and defend every citizen fairly and respectfully regardless of the color of their skin, creed, or ethnicity. In the years that followed, working with an outstanding, progressive new chief, we were able to transform that department into one of the most modern and forward-thinking law enforcement police forces in the nation. The great American poet Maya Angelou said, “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.

even more so in trying times. Doing what is right is seldom easy. Sometimes the courage of your convictions may lose some friends, and sometimes you will be surprised by who steps up to lend a hand. Ethical leadership is not for the faint of heart. Most people, it seems, would rather follow than lead, which may explain why many pundits today bemoan the lack of ethical leadership in the public and private sectors. Unfortunately, some of those who vie for political leadership are ethically flawed and, in some cases, even corrupt. From personal experience, three of the five Pinellas County commissioners that hired me went to jail for zoning payoffs


Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”2 To live an ethical life is more than a choice, it is a commitment. As public managers, we must come to terms with our potential and have the courage to exercise our moral convictions. In a world where the integrity of a number of corporations and public institutions has already eroded—and where there is great peer pressure “to go along to get along”—it is important to ask ourselves, where do we stand or, more importantly, where do I stand? Let me be very clear; I’m not suggesting that city and county managers combat every social ill or ethical issue confronting society in their own communities. What I

am suggesting and strongly believe is that to ignore and close our eyes to serious ethical transgressions, moral abuses, or corruption that can and should be confronted, or to duck issues that demand our leadership, is to fail in our professional responsibility to exemplify moral courage and public trust. Miami-Dade County government, where I served a second time as a reform county manager, due to recurring scandals, is a large organization with over 25,000 employees and a multi-billiondollar budget. It also has a small army of lobbyists who aggressively lobby elected commissioners over bids and contracts that involve large sums of public money. Before commission meetings, I would study the clients that


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these individual lobbyists represented and knowing which commissioner(s) those lobbyists were closest to, I knew who I would likely hear from when their item came up on the agenda. Before our meetings I would try to convince that commissioner why our professional recommendation was the correct decision and I never backed down. Commissioners knew that my staff and I would vigorously defend our recommendations. For me it was an ethically moral issue, a right-versus-wrong issue, and it was in that arena where some of my biggest battles were fought. To be ethical and assert leadership can be a challenging path and it takes courage,


otherwise is not to have the moral courage to act in the best interest of the community being served. As a life-long career public manager, I believe ethical leadership requires three distinct characteristics: competence, courage, and commitment. Competence is a measure of our abilities, our skills, and intellectual capacities; including the level of our intelligence and judgement and how emotionally secure we feel about ourselves. Courage takes many forms and includes moral courage



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that all transpired before my appointment. While a crooked politician is deplorable, an unethical or corrupt administrator is even worse. That is because ethical public administrators are the last line of defense against the corrosive actions of unethical politicians and their surrogates. A professional manager is the backbone of a public organization. They are on the inside of the bureaucracy and should sound the alarm against the political raider, sometimes becoming a whistleblower to stem the tide of malfeasance. To do

as well as the willingness to express ourselves with unvarnished truthfulness; our bravery and willingness to face unjust criticism; and when necessary, our strength of character and resiliency. To meet the tests of competence and courage we must know ourselves, spiritually and morally, as well as being mentally mature and in control of our ego. Commitment means having the personal discipline to share our values and beliefs and practice them daily; faithfully and judiciously. To exert ethical leadership, managers must have strong personal and professional ethics. Ethics for us defines the moral principles of what is good and bad and what we consider right and wrong behavior. It is an individual’s code of conduct and an integral part of leadership. Our ICMA Code of Ethics provides excellent advice and ethical guideposts for our professional conduct. Ethics is about making moral choices and our nation’s ethics are based on its people’s moral principles, which Thomas Jefferson said is the moral foundation upon which governments are founded; hence, ethics provides society with a rationale for its morality—a mechanism for individuals to reason why a decision is moral. Ethical conduct and moral courage are part and parcel of enlightened leadership. An enlightened organization, as I define it, has a leader and a management team that values its stakeholders and its employees and interacts with them both. I strongly believe that the establishment and maintenance of an ethical

Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” — President Harry S. Truman

culture must be the core responsibility of the leader and his or her management team. An organization’s ethical standards should reflect its values, attitudes, and behavior—in other words, the inherent ethical culture of the organization and its leadership. In the workplace, ethical practices should be central to the culture of an organization and should be as conspicuous as the furniture, computers, and other tools used by employees in their tasks. Most successful, ethical leaders set a bold vision and inspire others to follow. Helping each of them in that visionary process is their commitment to establish a caring workplace environment—an environment that values and respects employees, no matter their station within the organization. These ethical leaders are fair and just, and they lead by example. They

are self-aware and live in the present. They understand their weaknesses and strengths, yet they are confident in their abilities to lead. They are not reluctant to surround themselves with experienced men and women—perhaps some even smarter and more experienced than they are—who will help them realize their vision, and in that process, feel free to challenge or present constructive alternatives to the leader. Ethical leaders seek and value men and women who aspire to lead, to learn, and listen and are genuinely respectful of the opinion of others. They keep an open mind and

practice empowerment. For me empowerment is the cornerstone of ethical leadership and that powerful word, more than any other, describes my management philosophy. I try to empower my staff and department directors to take risks and make decisions when they feel it is the right thing to do. I have their backs, but I do insist that they not pass on a problem to me without a recommended solution. I believe in teamwork and always try to appoint or hire people that are smarter than me— the smarter the better. Ethical leaders have love and respect for the people

they lead and serve. They are patient and have love for humanity and are confident enough in themselves to share emotions with those they lead. Above all, ethical leadership requires men and women to have empathy, humility, and a sense of humor—even being able to laugh at themselves. They must be willing to admit failure and have the courage and resiliency to adjust, innovate, and find solutions consistent with their vision. Ethical leaders are neither saints nor sinners. They are not perfect. Everyone who aspires to lead has within themselves ambition and a sense of self-interest, otherwise they would not be seeking to rise above the field and make a mark in their chosen endeavor. Ambition imparts purpose and engenders self-esteem. In possessing those qualities, however, ethical leaders have control of their egos and do not allow themselves to be either consumed by power or overwhelmed by altruism. They embrace the good and the bad in themselves—as they do in others—guided by their ethics and moral principles. Without leadership, decisions are not made, opportunities are squandered, and dissension and mistrust abound. Regardless of the stage—whether national, private sector, or local government—moral courage and ethical leadership matters. In most of mankind’s endeavors, circumstances have determined the response, but it is the exercise of ethical leadership practiced by those engaged in the moral struggle that made the difference

between success or failure. President Harry S. Truman declared that, “Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”3 Whether in the fulfillment of our responsibilities as citizens or in our personal lives or in our chosen profession, each of us must be ready to rise to the challenges of our own times. ENDNOTES

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” —Atticus Finch” Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Published May 23, 2006. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 2 Angelou, Maya. USA TODAY Interview. March 5, 1988. https://www. 3 Harry S. Truman Quotes. (n.d.). Brainy Retrieved June 6, 2019, harry_s_truman_130667. 1

MERRETT R. STIERHEIM holds a master’s degree in governmental administration from the Wharton School’s Fels Institute and two honorary university doctorates. He just completed his first book, Ethical Leadership in Challenging Times, from which this article contains excerpts. He is donating that book to Florida Atlantic University (FAU), where it will be copyrighted and sold with all proceeds used for public administration scholarships at FAU. Mr. Stierheim is also an ICMA Life Member. (






was teaching the ICMA Code of Ethics in my Local Government Administration class at Portland State University not long ago. Later, as I thought about that session and what managers do on a regular basis, as well as what is happening on the national stage, I thought back to Aaron Wildavsky’s warning in his wellknown book, Speaking Truth to Power: “[T] here must be and are, limits: everything is not allowed.”1 That commitment has never been more critical than it is today, so I sent a message to managers with appreciation for the fact that they do this on a regular basis. What surprised me was the number of emails I received in return from managers expressing their own appreciation, but also noting that they had recently faced just such situations or indeed are currently confronting them. Of course, the fact is that there is far more involved in the wide range of decisions that managers make every day that have ethical

A Variety of Perspectives and Norms

dimensions than just that very intense ultimate choice about saying no to key officials. A range of such choices crops up in real time within widely varied contexts. And it is not just a matter of a manager making a decision. There are most often a number of people involved and more than one way to view the situation. Indeed, the reality of ethical choices in real time brings to mind Miles’s Law: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”2 Miles was not saying that everyone is simply selfinterested. He was making it clear that everyone has a set of lenses through which he or she views public service challenges. The lenses have been shaped by life experience, values, and education, among other factors. The lenses through which different people view the world color the decisions they make and the lenses others have affect the way those decisions are received and understood. Watching local government professional leaders over the years, there are a number of situations that make it clear that choices are not just reflex responses to the Code of Ethics, as important as it is, but a complex matter of judgment shaped by such factors as experience, education, and professional norms. These different lenses matter.

One of the difficulties for local government professionals in dealing with ethics challenges is understanding the different lenses involved. It is not just a question of a manager’s obligations under the code, as fundamental as they are to professional ethics. The other perspectives include individual (personal), organizational, community, and national (sometimes called societal) perspectives. These sets of norms are not always consistent with one another. Individual ethics derive from family values, education, lived experience, and faith-based sources. This last one is interesting because although professionals understand the need to avoid imposing their religion on someone else, they also acknowledge that faith matters to many managers in daily life. Of course, managers are also professionals and they know that the Code of Ethics was central to the creation of the councilmanager and county administrator forms of government. It remains so today. In fact, it is interesting—with all of the changes that have taken place—to look at the original 1924 version of the Code to see how similar it is to the contemporary version (albeit recognizing the gender-specific language of the day). At the same time, local government organizations often employ a range of people with various professional affiliations, each with its own code of ethics. There are engineers, planners, accountants, law enforcement officers, and more. In some cases, their codes of ethics may have a very different focus or prioritize certain behaviors differently, even as the city manager works to educate the entire staff about the importance of the ICMA Code. This last point emphasizes the fact that organizational ethics matter. What adds to the complexity in organizations is that there can be differences between the values and accepted modes of conduct that an organization announces publicly and the informal norms that make up a kind of organizational operating code of ethics. This has often been the subject of discussion with respect to police departments, where the department tells the city and its residents what the expectations are of the officers and the department as a whole, when it is quite clear to officers within the department that the expectations of their colleagues and even their superiors can be quite different from those public pronouncements. This situation is particularly dysfunctional when people within the organization realize that rewards or punishments are meted out more in accordance with the informal expectations as compared to the formally asserted norms. That problem is not limited to police departments. Indeed, it can apply to an entire city or county organization. Vaclav Havel made this kind of contradiction the subject of his first speech as president of the Czech Republic. He warned, “The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we got used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore each other, to care only for ourselves.”3 He insisted that what is needed is “morality in practice.” This problem goes very directly to the question of organizational culture and, as any manager knows, it is a major challenge to bring about full-scale culture


change in any organization—and usually a long-term endeavor. Of course, there is also a community ethic. As James Svara has explained in great detail, there are often serious problems of fit when a manager with one set of skills and personal characteristics comes to a community with service and governance expectations that are quite different from those already in play in the city.4 The elected members of the governing body are the ones normally expected to express community norms, but sometimes even they get out of sync with the community they are supposed to serve. In other cases, the council, the manager, and the staff need to lead efforts to bring about change in the community, which means seeking to educate and encourage culture change not only within the organization, but in the community as a whole. The Ferguson, Missouri, case is an obvious, if painful, example. Then, of course, as the late John Rohr explained in his classic book on public sector ethics, there are national norms, often closely connected with principles featured in the Constitution and laws of the nation, such as due process of law and equal protection of the law.5 Although most people are quick to claim that they are committed to the norms that make the country great, the reality is that there are many political cultures in the country and the way that people across the nation understand and live the national ethics can vary widely. Whether they stop to think of it that way or not, when managers make decisions, they are judged and the responses come from people looking through lenses colored by all of these perspectives. Common, Yet Unique Challenges in Real Time

Anyone who watches managers go about their work can see a variety of scenarios that seem to crop up time after time, though it is important to remember that context counts and every situation presents unique challenges. They do not always have clear answers, but they are instructive nevertheless. In the process, it is useful to keep the different lenses in mind. Some are dramatic and can lead to a manager leaving, but others are ongoing challenges and the manager and the staff must live with their responses to the situation. Ethics Education for the Council and for the Organization

Managers often come into a community that has had difficulties. Consider the case of one city 26 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | MARCH 2020

The better you are at understanding and integrating shared values between your personal life and professional life, the more integrity you will build, enabling you to be stronger and more authentic in the face of challenging situations.”

manager, an experienced professional who came into the job with an awareness that helping the city move to a better future would be challenging and could very well come at a cost. It is very common to find at the root of this kind of situation the fact that some members of the governing body do not understand the council-manager form of government and do not understand or accept the constraints on their authority or discretion. Managers in this situation often try to educate the members, either by accessing formal training through a league of cities or an outside educator or facilitator. In addition, they also try to engage in team building, often using the goal-setting process or a strategic planning effort as a vehicle. In this case, the manager tried a variety of tactics to support the council, encourage civility and cooperation, and help the elected officials arrive at and maintain a constructive focus. Of course, at the same time, she had to work with staff to help heal wounds of the past and encourage them to see a brighter future. However, in some instances these kinds of efforts lead particularly difficult members of the governing body to see the manager as the problem. At that point, the manager has to maintain her ethical obligations to deal with all members equally, even when it is clear that the problem individuals do not see themselves as bound by similar ethical commitments. That takes a toll on the manager, as she continues to get the city’s business done and support the council in the process, all the while aware that some members of the governing body are working against her. It also takes a toll on other members of the governing body and the staff. The disgruntled individuals may choose an issue as a focus of attack that is not direct, but that seeks to undermine the manager and increase their own influence over staff and administration. In many cases, like this one, the manager knows that if she can stay with the effort, and the other members of the governing body see good things happening in the community, it may help to transform not only behavior within the council, but also with the staff and the manager. Given their training and experience, most managers know that if this takes too long, or if the problem behavior proves toxic to the organization, it may be time to leave. It turned out that in this example, the governing body had some members who were not ready to change and were unwilling to recognize the boundaries to their authority required by the form of government. The manager left, but even so, she had helped the community recognize the challenges it faced in terms of its leadership. In fact, the community signaled its support of the manager’s

efforts by defeating a ballot measure designed to weaken the manager and the form of government. In this case, the manager had certainly honored the requirements of the ICMA Code of Ethics and helped the community recognize the challenges it faced with community-level norms. She also helped to heal the organization and strengthen the staff’s sense of positive organizational ethics. Explaining the Boundaries to the Public: Protecting the Staff from Public Abuse

Another increasingly common scenario arises when the public service professional has to deal with incivility that can threaten the safety of staff. It is interesting that the term “staff” is used only once in the ICMA Code of Ethics and that is with respect to the obligation to ensure a diverse staff (see guideline for Tenet 11) and the term “employee” is only mentioned in Tenet 3 and guidelines to that tenet. It is one thing when a local leader is dealing with his or her own situation and effectiveness, but quite another when the manager has to face the community and protect the staff. Yet today, when so many members of staff find themselves facing unacceptable behavior by some in the community, one of the key obligations of managers is to ensure not only the safety, but also—at least in terms of the workplace—the well-being of staff members. The increasingly common inappropriate and uncivil behavior is only made worse by toxic political rhetoric at the national level and the message that public employees are not worthy of civility. In one case, a city had a long-standing history of activists in the community addressing the council and staff. In recent years, and in too many cases, the behavior had become just plain threatening, with not only the use of foul language, but actually things being thrown at staff. The challenge was how to both protect free speech and encourage active participation by community members while also taking care of staff. Efforts to enforce rules related to the public comment period and to impose sanctions such as limitations on future appearances by uncivil citizens had resulted in warnings from courts and accusations by some of those affected that the city was taking retribution for opposition to city actions.6 Council can publish rules for a public comment period and take security precautions for offices, but that often does not adequately address the situation. In this case, a city commissioner worked with staff in an effort to find ways to protect staff members not only from uncivil and even unsafe behavior at meetings, but also to ensure their safety in the office. It happens that this was in a larger city, but the problem has become increasingly common and, in some cases, acute, in

smaller communities, even in rural areas often known for positive community ethics. In this case, the leader of this effort tragically passed away from an illness he battled valiantly, all the while continuing his effort to deal with incivility and to protect staff. However, his efforts did play a key role in the passage of a stronger city ordinance concerning problematic or dangerous behavior.7 In the process, he urged the city and its residents to come to grips with behaviors that threaten the community’s norms. He was clear to all involved that the community would have to deal with this in the face of a national context that was facing serious civility challenges and even conveying toxicity down to the community level. He also made clear an obligation to the safety and well-being of staff, a central professional obligation even though it is not clearly articulated in the Code of Ethics. In so doing, he was seeking to integrate all of these perspectives consistently with his own personal ethics as well. Sunlight as the Best Disinfectant: Airing Serious Problems8

In another case, a city had been having difficulties related to officials in the police department. Indeed, there had been serious issues between the then-police chief and previous managers. There were retirements and other changes, but some of the problems continued and affected a range of people in other city departments. The situation was complex and involved allegations of misconduct by others in the organization. It was increasingly clear to both the city manager and elected officials that the organizational ethics were threatened by these behaviors, along with the confidence of city residents. The city manager encouraged the council to bring in an outside law firm to investigate and received a thorough report that made clear a number of serious problems. The challenge was what to do to address the problems, not only with respect to specific individuals employed by the city, but also how to deal with declining public confidence in the city by its residents. Normally, these kinds of investigations remain internal for obvious reasons, but the concern was that keeping the report private would not help to heal the wounds and might even raise questions about transparency. It is not just that there are legal risks, but also the fear of further undermining community confidence by disclosing inappropriate behavior within the organization. In an unusual move, the interim manager recommended that the council exercise a provision in state law that allowed for disclosure of such reports. In fact, state law provided that: “a public body may not disclose information about a personnel investigation of a public safety employee if the investigation does not result in discipline.” However, it goes on to allow exceptions, including a case in which “the public body determines that MARCH 2020 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | 27

nondisclosure of the information would adversely affect the confidence of the public in the public body.” In the recitals to the resolution releasing the report, the city council with the city manager’s support and encouragement wrote: The underlying complaint alleged misconduct by and between Managers and Department Heads of the City. The City Council therefore believes failure to disclose the Final Investigation Report would be perceived by the public as an attempt by the City Council to cover up potential improper conduct. This perception would adversely affect the public’s confidence in the City Council and the City. Transparency to the extent allowed and protected by law, is important to the City. Subject to protection of the attorney-client privileged communications and Personal Identifying Information, the City wishes to disclose the Investigation Report. The report exonerated a number of people, but also made serious findings with respect to some others. The response was immediate and positive with reporting and editorials in the local press lauding the city for “striking a mighty blow on behalf of government transparency.” The full press coverage provided a lengthy summary of the report, which helped inform community residents, relatively few of whom were likely to take the time to read the full report. The problems were clear and there would be no attempt to minimize them. The interim city manager explained, “I think the fact that you have a council willing to be this transparent is impressive in itself. . . . I think people ultimately will understand. It was a challenge they wrestled with; nobody really wants to talk about the bad news. But they felt it was important people understand the objective truth.” In so doing, he not only addressed other obvious tenets of the Code of Ethics, such as Tenet 3, which speaks to maintaining the trust of the public, but also honored the requirement in Tenet 6 that managers “recognize that elected representatives of the people are entitled to the credit for the establishment of local government policies. . . .” In the process, the manager and the council addressed the threats to the community’s norms, reinforced the positive core values of the community, and removed a cloud over the organization and the staff to allow the work that needs to be done to improve organizational ethics going forward. It is equally clear that this is a case in which the lenses came together to form a picture that is both healing and promising. The Clash of Values: Supporting Staff Concerns While Honoring Professional Obligations

Of course, not all situations are as direct and relatively stark in terms 28 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | MARCH 2020

of choices. Consider the case of a manager dealing with the clash between the turmoil in national norms and those of staff within a city, in terms of organizational, community, and personal ethics. The intensity of conflict within the United States—and one would add other countries as well—and the intensity of partisan and ideological differences is a toxic brew that has afflicted not only national and state politics, but local communities as well. Of course, even people who have no wish to be involved in toxic interactions can still be seriously affected by policies and administrative actions at other levels of government that hit home in the community. Staff within local government organizations are citizens of their community as well and are, like other residents, affected by national decisions that they find abhorrent. What happens when staff members want to know what the manager’s reaction is to these policies and other statements from national and state political leaders? In this case, the manager faced employees who wanted to know where he stood on some of these matters. Honoring his professional obligations under the Code of Ethics, as well as his own sense of good leadership in the community, he explained that the local government is nonpartisan and that the manager cannot take partisan positions or allow his personal views to interfere with professionals obligations. He also made clear that those employed in the organization needed to be careful not to undermine the credibility of the city. Employees may have free speech rights, but professionally it is critical to avoid embroiling the city in what are clearly political matters. At the same time, the manager had his or her own views and felt strongly about what is happening. More than that, he knew that employees cannot help but be affected by their own sense of what key values are in jeopardy from their point of view. There has always been some level of tension about this kind of issue, but the times in which we live have exacerbated the situation. What is clear in the manager’s response is that he was going to maintain his professional obligations under the Code of Ethics, but also that he must ensure that he interacts with staff in ways that respect their struggles between their professional obligations while remaining sensitive to the stress they were experiencing as individuals. Empathy may not appear in the Code, but it matters. This situation is an ongoing challenge and can take its toll over time. This manager’s dilemma is certainly a sign of serious challenges for the nation and its communities, but curiously it has at least had the positive effect of causing thoughtful professionals to consider the situation of the staff in the complex mix of ethics, as well as their own position. That is, of course, not to suggest that all is well. Far from it. Staying for the Staff: Loyalty to Professional Organizational Development

Consider one last positive case. A city had faced a challenging past, with some very problematic elected leadership. Almost all senior

professional staff had left. However, a new council was elected and its members wanted to move forward in a positive way. A new, but experienced, manager arrived and plunged into the mix of internal management issues and community service needs, along with support for this ambitious new set of council members. The first decision was a classic one: Should he replace existing managers and department heads with new people, marking a clean break with the past; or try to identify talent within the existing staff and develop their skills so that they could bring the city into a better future? He chose the latter course, recognizing it would take time and a good deal of his own energy to do the required professional development work while also addressing council priorities and city service challenges. Good things happened. Among the most important of these gains was a significant increase in community engagement activities. This was a significant challenge in part because of the large Latino population, most of whom had never felt that they were welcome to participate in city decisions. Also, a variety of residents became engaged who were working hard to make ends meet and had relatively little free time, but cared about city services and their children’s future. Then, some of the old guard managed to get a majority of members elected to council with a mayor bent on taking back control and going back to what he and his colleagues saw as the “good old days.” The mayor made no secret of his intentions to fire the city manager and other key staff, as he and his colleagues were not interested in training to understand their role, the city government, or anything else. They knew what they wanted to do. The manager had an obvious choice. He could leave and, in his case, clearly find another position quickly, and one that would relieve him of the challenge of dealing with the situation in the city. Of course, if he did that, he would be leaving his staff, which was coming along in a variety of important ways and much happier with their prospects for the future before the recent turn of events. He would also be leaving a community that had been working through a change to be the more inclusive and engaged city that it could be. The manager chose to stay, knowing that it would only be a matter of time before the new council majority would terminate him. Still, when the first council meeting came, the public turned out to support the manager, the staff, and the direction in which the city had been moving. The mayor did not have the votes and so agreed to reevaluate the manager later in the year. The manager knew this was not likely to last. However, in the meantime he worked with staff to help those who wanted to stay as much as he could and to assist those who knew they needed to leave to find a path forward. All the while, he was absorbing the punishment from the mayor and some of his colleagues who wanted him gone. It was not long thereafter that he was terminated, but long enough to help the staff and the organization. On the evening of the council meeting when he was fired, he received a standing ovation from a packed city council chamber. As soon as the required six-month limit on recall elections had passed, the mayor and the other two council members were turned out by an overwhelming majority in an election with a high turnout even though no other major

matters were on the ballot. The integration of the various ethical perspectives in this picture are clear. A Few Observations and Insights

It is clear that, as important as it is, the Code of Ethics does not provide a ready answer to every ethics challenge that arises. It is equally clear that no manager, no matter how experienced, can anticipate every possible scenario that he or she will face in a given local community. Context counts and so do community dynamics. However, these brief vignettes provide some useful insights. First, it is important to think about the different lenses— personal, professional, organizational, community, and national— that are important in ethics challenges. Second, it is just as important to recognize that other people, both within and outside the city organization, see the situation through different lenses. Third, there is no set of rules or tenets that is so complete that it can prescribe the best response in any situation. Fourth, professional judgment matters, and all too often discussions of ethics do not ask the question of just what professional judgment means and how it works in dealing with ethical challenges. Fifth, and finally, there is often not a final resolution for many situations, and the challenge is often how to reconcile the personal, professional, community, and national dimensions of a particular situation, many of which are not within the manager’s control. Although that may not be a satisfying way to address a problem, it can make it easier to live with the ethical situations managers confront every day. ENDNOTES

Aaron Wildavsky, Speaking Truth to Power: The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), p. 13. I recently dedicated a book “to Aaron and to all those public service professionals who daily demonstrate their willingness to “speak truth to power”— even at great cost to themselves and their families and in the most difficult of circumstances.” from Policy Tools in Policy Design (Irvine, CA: Melvin & Leigh Publishers, 2018). 2 Rufus Miles, “The Origin and Meaning of Miles’ Law,” Public Administration Review 38 (Sep/Oct 1978): 399-403. 3 Vaclav Havel, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 4. 4 See e.g., James Svara “Achieving Effective Community Leadership,” in Charldean Newell, ed., The Effective Local Government Manager, 3rd ed., (Washington, D.C.: ICMA, 2004), pp. 33-38. 5 John Rohr, Ethics for Bureaucrats: An Essay on Law and Values (New York: Marcel Dekker, 1978). See also Rohr, To Run a Constitution: The Legitimacy of the Administrative State (Lawrence, KS: Kansas University Press, 1986). 6 See Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 138 S. Ct. 1945 (2018). See also Walsh v. Enge, 154 F. Supp. 3d 1113 (DOR 2015). 7 A federal district court rejected a later challenge to the new ordinance that allowed exclusion under some circumstances. Walsh v. Enge, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68980 (DOR 2017). 8 Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money (National Home Library Foundation, 1933), p. 62 (originally published 1914). He first published this as “What Publicity Can Do,” Harper’s Weekly, December 13, 1913, p. 10. 1

PHILLIP J. COOPER is the Douglas and Candace Morgan Professor of Local Government, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon ( His most recent book is Local Government Administration: Governance in Communities. MARCH 2020 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | 29

TIMELINE OF THE ICMA Code of Ethics 1924




ICMA Code of Ethics adopted at the Montreal ICMA Conference.

Added merit-based personnel decisions noting that “political, religious, and racial considerations” carry no weight in personnel decisions.

Being competent matters. Obligation for continuous professional development added to the Code.

Replaced the term “city manager” in exchange for the more inclusive reference to “member.” Reflects the addition of county managers to ICMA.




The profession’s commitment to political neutrality, dropped in the 1938 revision, is back, reaffirmed in direct language.

Guidelines are added to the Code to offer practical advice. Formal rules of procedure to enforce the Code were adopted by the ICMA Executive Board.

As the Equal Rights Amendment is debated nationally, the Code becomes gender neutral.





Replaced “municipal,” which was added to be more inclusive of the membership, with “local government.”

Tenet 7 was changed to emphasize the broader principle of political neutrality.




Tenet 7 guidelines were amended to clarify that members “shall” not run for elected office or engage in other political activity.

Sexual orientation was added to the guideline on fairness and merit in personnel practices.

New Tenet 7 guideline added to reinforce that members have a right and responsibility to voice their opinion on public issues.



Amended Tenet 12 to reinforce that public office is a public trust.

Strengthened the profession’s commitment to integrity in Tenet 3, including guidance on workplace relationships.



New guidelines on equity and inclusion as the commitment to serve the best interest of all was reinforced in Tenet 4.

Conduct unbecoming of professionals was addressed in a new guideline.


ICMA Code of Ethics with Guidelines The ICMA Code of Ethics was adopted by the ICMA membership in 1924, and most recently amended by the membership in October 2019. The Guidelines for the Code were adopted by the ICMA Executive Board in 1972, and most recently revised in June 2019. The mission of ICMA is to advance professional local government through leadership, management, innovation, and ethics. To further this mission, certain principles, as enforced by the Rules of Procedure, shall govern the conduct of every member of ICMA, who shall: Tenet 1. We believe professional management is essential to efficient and democratic local government by elected officials. Tenet 2. Affirm the dignity and worth of local government services and maintain a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant.

GUIDELINE Advice to Officials of Other Local Governments. When members advise

and respond to inquiries from elected or appointed officials of other local governments, they should inform the administrators of those communities.

Tenet 3. Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.

GUIDELINES Public Confidence. Members should

conduct themselves so as to maintain public confidence in their position and profession, the integrity of their local government, and in their responsibility to uphold the public trust.


Influence. Members should conduct

their professional and personal affairs in a manner that demonstrates that they cannot be improperly influenced in the performance of their official duties. Length of Service. For chief

administrative/executive officers appointed by a governing body or elected official, a minimum of two years is considered necessary to render a professional service to the local government. In limited circumstances, it may be in the best interests of the local government and the member to separate before serving two years. Some examples include refusal of the appointing authority to honor commitments concerning conditions of employment, a vote of no confidence in the member, or significant personal issues. It is the responsibility of an applicant for a position to understand conditions of employment, including expectations of service. Not understanding the terms of employment prior to accepting does not justify premature separation. For all members a short tenure should be the exception rather than a recurring experience, and members are expected to honor all conditions of employment with the organization. Appointment Commitment. Members

who accept an appointment to a position should report to that position. This does not preclude the possibility of a member considering several offers or seeking several positions at the same time. However, once a member has accepted a formal offer of employment, that commitment is considered binding unless the employer makes fundamental changes in the negotiated terms of employment. Credentials. A member’s resume for

employment or application for ICMA’s Voluntary Credentialing Program shall completely and accurately reflect the member’s education, work experience, and personal history. Omissions and inaccuracies must be avoided.

Professional Respect. Members seeking a

position should show professional respect for persons formerly holding the position, successors holding the position, or for others who might be applying for the same position. Professional respect does not preclude honest differences of opinion; it does preclude attacking a person’s motives or integrity. Reporting Ethics Violations. When

becoming aware of a possible violation of the ICMA Code of Ethics, members are encouraged to report possible violations to ICMA. In reporting the possible violation, members may choose to go on record as the complainant or report the matter on a confidential basis. Confidentiality. Members shall not discuss

or divulge information with anyone about pending or completed ethics cases, except as specifically authorized by the Rules of Procedure for Enforcement of the Code of Ethics. Seeking Employment. Members should

not seek employment for a position that has an incumbent who has not announced his or her separation or been officially informed by the appointive entity that his or her services are to be terminated. Members should not initiate contact with representatives of the appointive entity. Members contacted by representatives of the appointive entity body regarding prospective interest in the position should decline to have a conversation until the incumbent’s separation from employment is publicly known. Relationships in the Workplace. Members

should not engage in an intimate or romantic relationship with any elected official or board appointee, employee they report to, one they appoint and/ or supervise, either directly or indirectly, within the organization. This guideline does not restrict personal friendships, professional mentoring, or social interactions with employees, elected officials and Board appointees.

Conduct Unbecoming. Members should

treat people fairly, with dignity and respect and should not engage in, or condone bullying behavior, harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, age, disability, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Tenet 4. Serve the best interests of the people.

GUIDELINES Impacts of Decisions. Members should

inform their governing body of the anticipated effects of a decision on people in their jurisdictions, especially if specific groups may be disproportionately harmed or helped. Inclusion. To ensure that all the people

within their jurisdiction have the ability to actively engage with their local government, members should strive to eliminate barriers to public involvement in decisions, program, and services. Tenet 5. Submit policy proposals to elected officials; provide them with facts and advice on matters of policy as a basis for making decisions and setting community goals; and uphold and implement local government policies adopted by elected officials.

GUIDELINE Conflicting Roles. Members who serve

multiple roles – working as both city attorney and city manager for the same community, for example – should avoid participating in matters that create the appearance of a conflict of interest. They should disclose the potential conflict to the governing body so that other opinions may be solicited. Tenet 6. Recognize that elected representatives of the people are entitled to the credit for the establishment of local government policies; responsibility for policy execution rests with the members. Tenet 7. Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators. Refrain from

participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body.

GUIDELINES Elections of the Governing Body.

Members should maintain a reputation for serving equally and impartially all members of the governing body of the local government they serve, regardless of party. To this end, they should not participate in an election campaign on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for the governing body. Elections of Elected Executives. Members

shall not participate in the election campaign of any candidate for mayor or elected county executive. Running for Office. Members shall not

run for elected office or become involved in political activities related to running for elected office, or accept appointment to an elected office. They shall not seek political endorsements, financial contributions or engage in other campaign activities. Elections. Members share with their

fellow citizens the right and responsibility to vote. However, in order not to impair their effectiveness on behalf of the local governments they serve, they shall not participate in political activities to support the candidacy of individuals running for any city, county, special district, school, state or federal offices. Specifically, they shall not endorse candidates, make financial contributions, sign or circulate petitions, or participate in fund-raising activities for individuals seeking or holding elected office. Elections relating to the Form of Government. Members may assist in

preparing and presenting materials that explain the form of government to the public prior to a form of government election. If assistance is required by another community, members may respond. Presentation of Issues. Members may assist their governing body in the presentation of issues involved in referenda such as bond issues, annexations, and other matters that affect the government entity’s operations and/or fiscal capacity.

Personal Advocacy of Issues. Members

share with their fellow citizens the right and responsibility to voice their opinion on public issues. Members may advocate for issues of personal interest only when doing so does not conflict with the performance of their official duties. Tenet 8. Make it a duty continually to improve the member’s professional ability and to develop the competence of associates in the use of management techniques.

GUIDELINES Self-Assessment. Each member should

assess his or her professional skills and abilities on a periodic basis.

Professional Development. Each member

should commit at least 40 hours per year to professional development activities that are based on the practices identified by the members of ICMA. Tenet 9. Keep the community informed on local government affairs; encourage communication between the citizens and all local government officers; emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public; and seek to improve the quality and image of public service. Tenet 10. Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.

GUIDELINE Information Sharing. The member

should openly share information with the governing body while diligently carrying out the member’s responsibilities as set forth in the charter or enabling legislation. Tenet 11. Handle all matters of personnel on the basis of merit so that fairness and impartiality govern a member’s decisions, pertaining to appointments, pay adjustments, promotions, and discipline.


GUIDELINE Equal Opportunity. All decisions

pertaining to appointments, pay adjustments, promotions, and discipline should prohibit discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, political affiliation, disability, age, or marital status. It should be the members’ personal and professional responsibility to actively recruit and hire a diverse staff throughout their organizations. Tenet 12. Public office is a public trust. A member shall not leverage his or her position for personal gain or benefit.

GUIDELINES Gifts. Members shall not directly or

indirectly solicit, accept or receive any gift if it could reasonably be perceived or inferred that the gift was intended to influence them in the performance of their official duties; or if the gift was intended to serve as a reward for any official action on their part. The term “Gift” includes but is not limited to services, travel, meals, gift cards, tickets, or other entertainment or hospitality. Gifts of money or loans from persons other than the local government jurisdiction pursuant to normal employment practices are not acceptable. Members should not accept any gift that could undermine public confidence. De minimus gifts may be accepted in circumstances that support the execution of the member’s official duties or serve a legitimate public purpose. In those cases, the member should determine a modest maximum dollar value based on guidance from the governing body or any applicable state or local law. The guideline is not intended to apply to normal social practices, not associated with the member’s official duties, where gifts are exchanged among friends, associates and relatives. Investments in Conflict with Official Duties. Members should refrain from

any investment activity which would compromise the impartial and objective performance of their duties. Members should not invest or hold any investment, directly or indirectly, in any financial business, commercial, or other private


transaction that creates a conflict of interest, in fact or appearance, with their official duties. In the case of real estate, the use of confidential information and knowledge to further a member’s personal interest is not permitted. Purchases and sales which might be interpreted as speculation for quick profit should be avoided (see the guideline on “Confidential Information”). Because personal investments may appear to influence official actions and decisions, or create the appearance of impropriety, members should disclose or dispose of such investments prior to accepting a position in a local government. Should the conflict of interest arise during employment, the member should make full disclosure and/or recuse themselves prior to any official action by the governing body that may affect such investments. This guideline is not intended to prohibit a member from having or acquiring an interest in or deriving a benefit from any investment when the interest or benefit is due to ownership by the member or the member’s family of a de minimus percentage of a corporation traded on a recognized stock exchange even though the corporation or its subsidiaries may do business with the local government. Personal Relationships. In any instance

where there is a conflict of interest, appearance of a conflict of interest, or personal financial gain of a member by virtue of a relationship with any individual, spouse/partner, group, agency, vendor or other entity, the member shall disclose the relationship to the organization. For example, if the member has a relative that works for a developer doing business with the local government, that fact should be disclosed. Confidential Information. Members shall

not disclose to others, or use to advance their personal interest, intellectual property, confidential information, or information that is not yet public knowledge, that has been acquired by them in the course of their official duties. Information that may be in the public domain or accessible by means of an open records request, is not confidential. Private Employment. Members should

not engage in, solicit, negotiate for, or

promise to accept private employment, nor should they render services for private interests or conduct a private business when such employment, service, or business creates a conflict with or impairs the proper discharge of their official duties. Teaching, lecturing, writing, or consulting are typical activities that may not involve conflict of interest, or impair the proper discharge of their official duties. Prior notification of the appointing authority is appropriate in all cases of outside employment. Representation. Members should not

represent any outside interest before any agency, whether public or private, except with the authorization of or at the direction of the appointing authority they serve. Endorsements. Members should not

endorse commercial products or services by agreeing to use their photograph, endorsement, or quotation in paid or other commercial advertisements, marketing materials, social media, or other documents, whether the member is compensated or not for the member’s support. Members may, however, provide verbal professional references as part of the due diligence phase of competitive process or in response to a direct inquiry. Members may agree to endorse the following, provided they do not receive any compensation: (1) books or other publications; (2) professional development or educational services provided by nonprofit membership organizations or recognized educational institutions; (3) products and/or services in which the local government has a direct economic interest. Members’ observations, opinions, and analyses of commercial products used or tested by their local governments are appropriate and useful to the profession when included as part of professional articles and reports. Copyright © 2019 by the International City/County Management Association. All Rights Reserved.







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