Trust in Government is so important. The public is willing to delegate authority and sacrifice some freedoms in exchange for an orderly and civilized society, but only if it believes that government is acting in the public’s best interest.
Government ethics refer to the unique set of duties that public officials owe to the public that they serve. These duties arise upon entering the public work force either as an elected representative, an appointed official, or a member of government staff. Public ethical obligations exist in addition to general ethical obligations and sometimes government ethics may conflict with personal ethical duties.
Elected and public officials are entrusted with protecting and maintaining the public trust. As such they have a duty to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
At all times, officials need to be mindful that the public is not privy to all the facts, can’t know what is in the official’s mind and may perceive conduct as not being in the public’s best interest. While some actions may have a legal basis, public officials need to consider what is ethical. Conduct that doesn’t violate law may still be seen as unethical if it creates the perception of wrongdoing that will harm the public trust.
Laws can’t cover every ethical dilemma and elected officials sometimes make decisions believing they can be impartial in spite of what might appear to be a conflict of interest.
As an example, the use of private e-mail for public business has been on the rise locally, nationally and globally. The law has yet to give an answer on this issue. Legally, it might be acceptable right now to keep correspondence on your private e-mail account private. However, if you recognize that you have a fiduciary duty of accountability and transparency regarding public business, you may conclude that it is unethical to withhold those private emails about public business from someone making a public record request. To do otherwise may give rise to the public perception that you have something to hide. This is an area where your ethics rather than the ethics laws guide your actions.
As an elected and/or public official what are your obligations in the government context? Simply put it’s to exercise a duty of care; loyalty; impartiality; accountability; and to preserve the public’s trust in government.
Are you struggling with conflicts of interest on your Council? Would governance and professional ethics training help you? Do you simply want to learn more about your role as an elected official?
Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can help.