Council to consider code-of-conduct alternatives

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2007

By Staff
Some council members believe recommended changes are too broad
Contributing Editor
Washington City Council members aren’t sure they need a 14-page code of conduct for city officials, but they do agree some standards of conduct are needed.
In October 1990, the council adopted standards of conduct for city officials. Those standards, contained in a three-page document, primarily focus on ethics requirements. Those requirements, in large part, have been preempted by state law, according to a memorandum from City Manager James C. Smith.
The 14-page code of conduct submitted to the council for its review is adapted from those models, according to the memorandum.
The three-page standards of conduct adopted in 1990 allows the council to censure one of its members.
The proposed 14-page code of conduct includes procedures for resolving disputes between council members, the council and city manager, the council and mayor and the council and department heads. It also includes procedures for addressing conflicts of interest.
During the council’s Dec. 10 meeting, Councilman Gil Davis suggested the proposed code of conduct may be too broad in its scope for a small city in North Carolina. The new council member suggested the city contact the N.C. League of Municipalities and the Institute of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to determine if they have codes of conduct that may be more appropriate for Washington.
The proposed code of conduct addressed items like state governments and local governments borrowing money to balance their budgets, Davis said. North Carolina law requires the state and local governments to balance their budgets, he noted.
Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer doesn’t like the proposed 14-page code of conduct.
Mercer said he has no problem with updating the standards of conduct the council approved in 1990. He believes a new code of conduct should not be too complicated.
Jennings said it’s important for council members and city officials to understand how they should work with one another as they conduct city business. For example, Jennings said, information that one council member requests of and receives from a city employee, department head or city manager — in most cases — should be shared with other council members.