Ethics Policy Rightly Puts Expectations On The Books

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At Thursday night's Payson Town Council meeting, Al Poskanzer delivered the results of 10 months of research into ethics policies that could be put into place in Payson for our elected officials, town staff and political candidates.

Poskanzer, along with volunteers on the Mayor's Ethics Task Force -- John Watt, Dick Reese, Jerry Payton, Mikey Kerns and Al Hurd -- examined state law, Payson town code and employee policy manuals, private and public, from around the state, focusing heavily on the City of Scottsdale.

What Poskanzer presented on Thursday was not shockingly new. Much of it, especially when it pertains to staff employees, is already on the books in Payson. The ethics policies he proposed for elected officials are already in place under state law. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns, an organization that regularly offers advice and training to our local town councils, publishes a booklet called "You as a Public Official" that covers much of what is in the Ethics Task Force proposed policy -- conflict of interest, nepotism, the receiving of gifts.

Although the policies are a conglomeration of tested ethics codes and laws already on the books, the proposed enforcement mechanism will be something new for Payson.

If the ethics policy becomes law when it's considered for council approval in July, the rules will be paired with the formation of an Ethics Panel, which will review complaints of ethics violations against the mayor or council members.

The Ethics Panel would consist of three to five members chosen by the town attorney. Members must be attorneys or retired federal, state or county judges who do not live in Payson, have businesses or clients in Payson.

Along with the enforceable policies laid out for town staff and elected officials, the Ethics Task Force prepared a one-page pledge to be signed by anyone running for town council or other office.

The pledge is not something that would be officially enforced, but is recommended as a guideline for campaign conduct.

In signing, candidates would pledge to: Run an accurate campaign based on issues, disclose any potential conflict of interest and not engage in personal attacks on opponents.

Anyone who remembers the last election can understand why the pledge was drafted.

However, there are issues of free speech that need to be discussed before it is put in place, even as a guideline with no force of law. The authority of a local government to ask for such a pledge needs to be reviewed. Would the town be obliged to announce the name of a candidate who declined to sign such a pledge? Could that, in itself, be considered a personal attack?

Fortunately, there is time to discuss the details and ramifications of the proposed policies.

After Poskanzer's presentation Thursday, the council asked town staff to prepare an ordinance that would codify the new ethics policy.

The ordinance is scheduled to go to the council in July, giving citizens, staff and council members a chance to comment. There will be presentations for town employees to discuss the specifics of the new policy.

As it grows, Payson is on the radar and those involved in our government should expect and welcome a high standard of conduct. By clearly defining and codifying those standards in an Ethics Policy, no official or staff person can cry ignorance, if he or she is caught accepting gifts that could sway a vote or hiding conflicts of interest.

It is time to codify our expectations.

Read the complete text of the Ethics Policy (PDF-3MB)

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