This action concludes a 9-month review process that engaged over 2,200 members in a dialogue about the relevancy of political neutrality to the profession.
On the eve of ICMA’s 100th anniversary and the 90th anniversary of the Code, the ICMA Committee on Professional Conduct felt that a comprehensive review of the Code was warranted. Given the complexity of the topic, the review will be an annual, ongoing effort focused on one or more tenets and the associated guidelines. Prioritization of key tenets, guidelines, and issues for review is the responsibility of the committee.
The committee launched the effort in February with a review of Tenet 7. The principle of political neutrality outlined in Tenet 7 is a hallmark of the profession. It generates the most member inquiries and ethics violations, excluding illegal activity. Tenet 7 applies to all ICMA members working for a local government.
The results of the member engagement process that included regional summits and state association meetings, a webinar, online discussion forum, and survey were invaluable to the committee in drafting its recommendations.
Ninety-five percent of members who responded to the survey indicated support for retaining the existing language of Tenet 7. Based on that feedback, the board voted to retain Tenet 7.
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.
It was also clear from the feedback that the vast majority of members, 85% or more depending on the issue, supported the current positions outlined in the guidelines on elections of the governing body and elected executives; running for office; participating in elections; advocacy for the form of government; and presentation of issues. Based on that feedback, the board approved minor language changes to these guidelines.
Eighty-four percent of members supported adding a guideline to address a member’s ethical obligation with regard to advocating for issues of personal interest. Members noted that the existing guidelines help members stay clear of the big “P” politics of partisan activity and candidate elections. But the Code doesn’t offer guidance on small “p” political issues, such as advocating on issues of personal interest. While members share the right and responsibility to advocate on issues of personal interest, they do need to consider the impact of that effort on their work. This is especially a concern in an era where public debate of social issues is highly polarized and partisan. After receiving feedback on the first draft, the committee modified the language presented to the board.
The new Tenet 7 guidelines approved by the board are as follows. For ease of reviewing, language to be deleted is noted with a line through the text and new language is underlined.
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 engage in active partcipation participate in the an election campaign on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for the governing body.
Elections of Elected Executives. Members should not engage 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. and to voice their opinion on public issues. 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 in relating to the Council-Manager Plan Form of Government. Members may assist in preparing and presenting materials that explain the council-manager form of government to the public prior to a form of government election. If assistance is required by another community, members may respond. All activities regarding ballot issues should be conducted within local regulations and in a professional manner.
Presentation of Issues. Members may assist their governing body in the presentation of presenting issues involved in referenda such as bond issues, annexations, and similar 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.
Contact Martha Perego, ICMA’s director of Ethics, with questions regarding the revisions to the Tenet 7 guidelines or the ICMA Code of Ethics at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-962-3668.