California has a complex set of ethics laws to guide local officials in their service to their communities. How does the well-intentioned local official keep track of them all? Keeping four core principles in mind helps:
Public officials may not use their offices for personal financial gain.
Holding public office does not entitle one to personal advantages or perks.
Transparency promotes public trust and confidence.
Merit-based decision-making based on fair processes produces the best results for the public
Because public trust and confidence is vital to the strength of a democratic system, ethics laws sometimes set very high standards for public official conduct. Even though public officials may feel at times that some of these high standards of conduct are unduly burdensome or intrusive of their private lives, they must accept that adhering to these standards, including broad financial disclosure rules for gifts and income, is simply part of the process of public service.
The resources below will help local officials and staff navigate these laws and provide tips on how they can increase trust and transparency in their communities.
Every two months, until the close of 2014, the Institute’s ethics program analyzed different ethical dilemmas public officials are likely to face.
Some of the dilemmas have legal dimensions, some have ethical dimensions and many are a combination of both. The column appeared in Western City magazine, the monthly publication of one of the Institute’s parent organizations, the League of California Cities.