Mayor's Ethics Task Force Still Has 1 Slot To Fill

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Mayor Bob Edwards has formed an ad hoc Ethics Committee chaired by Payson resident and technology consultant, Al Poskanzer.

"The goal of the ethics committee is to work with the town legal department to craft an ethics policy for the town," Poskanzer said. "Payson doesn't have one because it's still small and growing. Crafting of an ethics policy is part of that maturity."

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Al Poskanzer is heading a task force that will develop an ethics policy for Payson.

Poskanzer said the committee's mission is threefold: Establish a code of conduct for town staff, implement an ethics policy for elected officials and institute ethical parameters for campaigns.

Edwards said the proposed code of ethics also will provide a mediation component.

"We want to nip it in the bud," Edwards said. "We want to resolve issues before they go to court."

Michael Davis of the Illinois Institute of Technology's Study of Ethics in the Professions curriculum, defined "ethics" as, "The name for some special, morally permissible standard guiding members of a group."

The first code of ethics showed up in England at the turn of the 18th century. Thomas Percival, an English physician, conceived the idea to provide an ethical framework for medical practitioners.

Percival's principles supplanted the gentleman's code of the early industrial revolution.

In 1847, the American Medical Association adopted the first, official code of ethics for its newly formed organization, and since then, the ethical phenomenon has grabbed every form of government and corporate activity.

And as the Town of Payson grows, its leaders think the time is right for change.

Poskanzer is now looking for one more person to round out his five-member task force.

The advisory group will define the ethical boundaries that confine conflicts of interest, the acceptance of gifts in return for influence and the overseeing of candidate behavior without infringing on their First Amendment rights.

"I think elected officials need some direction," Edwards said. "What are the rules? Is it or is it not right? When you have a clear policy, people aim toward it."

The mayor, since he took office in May, has formed four task forces: Water, affordable housing, the citizen goal plan and ethics.

For the most part, the other six members of the council have not been involved in the mayor's committee-forming process. Edwards said he's taken the initial responsibility off the shoulders of his elected peers.

Councilor John Wilson said he accepts the mayor's authority, withholding judgment until the presentation of the committees' findings.

"I don't really know what they're going after or what they need," said Wilson. "I'm hoping that they'll find out -- like with the water committee -- that the town is doing a good job already.

"I'll get involved in the process when it comes time, and that saves me a lot of time trying to dig it out myself. It's a wait and see. If they find it's something we need to do better, it will come back to us in the report."

The mayor's ad hoc committees, because they are not town-sanctioned, fall outside the jurisdiction of statutory requirements, specifically open meeting laws.

That means committee members can meet in private.

"They're not officially created nor do they have official authority," said Town Attorney Sam Streichman. "At best they can advise on their findings and then it'll be up to the mayor and council what to do with that information."

Edwards said, as Poskanzer and his team draw up a policy, the public and council will have access to its contents.

Once a final draft is accepted, the council will vote on its recommendations. If passed by a majority, those recommendations become law.

Meanwhile, Poskanzer hopes to soon fill the fifth and final slot on his task force.

He invites those with ethics experience, such as the clergy, to contact him at alan.poskanzer@cox.net.

-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail fmegdal@payson.com.

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