SEEMS TO ME ... Ethics in county government have real value

ethics used in the media and by politicians and political com- mentators, yet it isn’t always clear what is meant by this term. Generally speaking, ethics refers to the study of right and wrong behaviors. In our daily lives we are constantly faced with important questions about what to do. We face the same thing in our government jobs. As Martin Luther King said, “Te time is always right to do what is right.” Many times a public official will say, “But I didn’t know.”


Guess what? Tat doesn’t matter. You took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Arkansas, the State Consti- tution, and the U.S. Constitution … “So help me God.” County officials and all public servants have a responsibility to uphold the law. Te law is there to learn. Don’t blame someone else for your ignorance. Buckle down and learn the law. Tat’s your job. And there are ethics to observe in carrying out those laws. Government ethics refer to the unique set of duties public officials owe to the public they serve. Tese duties arise upon entering the public work force either as an elected official or a member of government staff. So for simplicity’s sake, please know that when we refer to public officials, we are referring to all public actors, be they elected, appointed or hired. Te relationship between public officials and the public can be described as fiduciary in nature. Te term fiduciary is defined as relating to “a person to whom property or power is entrusted for the benefits of another.” Examples of fiduciary relationships include those of the attorney/client, executor/heir, and principal/agent. You can readily see why the public official/citizen relationship is simi- lar. Te electorate delegates governing authority to public of- ficials to exercise discretion over the public treasury; to create laws; and to administer programs and government functions that will impact their lives. Te public trusts that the public official will act in the public’s best interest. Ethical obligations for government officials are not a

new concept. In Ancient Greece, Plato called for death for public officials who took bribes. In 1215, King John of England signed the Magna Carta, which promised among other things, “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” Not long after that in 1254 King Louis IX of France promulgated conflicts of interest rules for provincial governors. In 1776 our Declaration of Independence acknowledged


ig Ziglar, who was an American author and motivational speaker, said, “Te most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity.” We often hear the term government

the concept of delegated authority. It says in part:

“We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalien- able Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Tat to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Eddie A. Jones County Consultant

History concludes that several delegates attending the constitutional convention in 1787, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, advocated for a fiduciary form of government. Maryland representatives literally declared themselves to be the trustees of the public. Ethical duties flow from the public fiduciary relationship — then and now. Tose obligations include duties of care, loyalty, impartiality, accountability, and preservation of the public’s trust in government. Te duty of “care” requires that the public official com- petently and faithfully execute the duties of the office. Tat includes managing assets competently and being good stew- ards of the public treasury; using due diligence in the selec- tion and supervision of staff/employees; following the rules; and upholding the constitution and laws. Tat takes us back to one of my opening statements. You must put in the time to learn your duties and the laws governing your office and county government in general. To be ethical you must be loyal. To whom? Public fiducia- ries have an absolute obligation to put the public’s interest before their own direct or indirect personal interests. You breach that obligation when you benefit at the public ex- pense. Prohibited benefits can be financial, career related, or personal, such as benefits to family members or close associ- ates. When general ethical duties to family or friends conflict with duty to the public, the public duty must always prevail. Public officials have a duty to represent all of their con- stituents fairly and impartially. Tis means you cannot favor those of your own political party over other constituents, or let the fact that someone voted against you impact your ability to act fairly. You must overcome any inherent bias that you possess. A public official must avoid targeting particular constituencies for favor or for punishment. Bottom line — the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution is in essence a codification of the duty of impartiality.


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