The City Attorney’s Office is tasked by the ethics ordinance with providing support to the Ethics Review Commission and the officials and staff of the City.
Summary of the New Ethics Ordinance, Ordinance No. 017112
On April 21, 2009, the City Council amended all provisions of the Ethics Ordinance, except for the provisions relating to campaign finance that regulate the city’s elected officials. This new Ethics Ordinance includes changes affecting all city officers and employees. City officers under the Ethics Ordinance are the city’s elected officials and all of the members of the city’s boards and commissions. Police officers employed by the City fall under the category of employee under the Ethics Ordinance.
This summary is provided as an aid to understanding the changes that have been made to the Ethics Ordinance. The text of the Ordinance should be reviewed to resolve any issue or question as to the exact requirements of the Ethics Ordinance.
Two changes have been made to the Standards of Conduct required under the Ethics Ordinance. Officers and employees are prohibited from personally utilizing City resources or by omission allowing City resources to be utilized for personal benefit or the benefit of another. Employees shall not recklessly disregard the established practices or policies of the City relating to the duties assigned to the employee.
The provisions relating to the acceptance of gifts by all officers and employees have significantly changed. Gifts cannot be accepted if the gift might reasonably tend to influence an officer or employee to act improperly in the discharge of his or her official duties. Additionally, most gifts with a value of exceeding $75 cannot be accepted, and gifts with a value exceeding $10 cannot be accepted from a person registered with the city as a lobbyist.
Exceptions to the $75 limitation for gifts include political contributions, awards and personalized mementos, personal gifts from relatives, friends and business associates, official tokens of recognition, ordinary loans, reasonable hosting in connection with certain public events, allowable honorariums, tickets to City sponsored events or events that are part of one’s official duties or a spouse’s or child’s position or duties, and attendance at most charity events.
The provisions relating to the reporting of gifts have been revised. All officers and the City Manager, Deputy City Managers and Department Heads must report all gifts (other than those within the exceptions noted above or below), including tickets or admission passes, that have a value of more than $10. The receipt of awards, honorariums, and reasonable hosting with a value exceeding $50 must be reported.
The purpose for accepting a ticket or admission pass must be stated on the report form. The form must be filed with the City Clerk no later than the 10th day of the following month for each month during which a reportable gift is received.
Gifts with a value exceeding $75 that are not on the list of exceptions should be returned to the sender within 72 hours of receipt or forwarded to the Office of the City Manager for acceptance as a gift to the City. In the latter case, the City Manager will determine the appropriate use or disposition of the gift in accordance with established City policies.
The Ethics Review Commission can now issue advisory opinions at the request of any Officer or the City Manager. Officers and employees cannot be found to be in violation of the Ethics Ordinance, if they reasonably and in good faith act in accordance with a written advisory opinion that the officer requested or the City Manager requested on behalf of employees.
New restrictions have been imposed on officers and employees when they leave City service. During the 24 months after leaving the service or employment of the City, officers and employees cannot become registered lobbyists with the city. Any officer or employee who engages in lobbying activities that would require registration under the City’s lobbying ordinance during this 24 month period commits a misdemeanor.
Significant changes have been made to the process for filing a complaint against an officer. Complaints must be made on the designated form, sworn to and filed with the City Clerk’s Office. The Ordinance now contains detailed provisions as to how a complaint will be processed and potentially be heard and resolved by the Ethics Review Commission. The Ethics Review Commission may issue letter sanctions to an officer or recommend that the City Council issue the sanction of removal from office.
Lastly, a new penalty provision has been added. During the time that a complaint has been filed and is being investigated or heard by the Ethics Review Commission, the complainant and respondent may not engage in ex parte communications with the members of the Ethics Review Commission, the City Council, or with any known witness. A violation of this provision is a misdemeanor.