Ethics: Outside Employment

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code_of_ethics-300x200One of our fellow Michigan Municipal Executives took the wise and proactive step of reaching out to the MME Ethics Committee with uncertainties about a scenario before taking action. The committee appreciated this professional foresight and wanted to share the scenario below for the edification of the membership.

MME members should always feel free to use the Ethics Committee as a resource and sounding board. You will be hearing from us more often as we hope to publish more advice a few times each year. Let us know if you have any good experiences to share. Our goal is to advance professional local government management by promoting individual responsibility for maintaining standards of competence and integrity.

Dilemma (encountered by an MME member)

I have an opportunity to work part-time outside of my full-time CAO role at a private company. This firm performs professional services for municipalities, including neighboring communities. My function for the consultant would be business development. If I receive permission from my commission, is it ethical to work in this function as long as I do not work with nearby municipalities with which we have a formal relationship?

ICMA Code of Ethics:  Tenet 12 of the ICMA Code of Ethics states, “Public office is a public trust. A member shall not leverage his or her position for personal gain or benefit.”

The accompanying guidelines specifically related to Private Employment add, “Members should not engage in, solicit, negotiate for, or promise to accept private employment, nor should they render services for private interests or conduct a private business when such employment, service, or business creates a conflict with or impairs the proper discharge of their official duties. Teaching, lecturing, writing, or consulting are typical activities that may not involve a conflict of interest, or impair the proper discharge of their official duties. Prior notification of the appointing authority is appropriate in all cases of outside employment.”

The parameters set by the manager in this situation followed this guidance:

  • Get prior commission approval
  • Complete the work associated with the outside employment outside working hours
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, particularly where formal relationships exist

In researching this issue, it was also the determination of the Ethics Committee that at professional development functions the manager should not engage in the outside employment and that if calling upon a fellow manager while engaging in the outside employment that they should clearly state that to their colleague up front.

There was still no easy answer and the committee wrestled with the optics. Does the position work with fellow managers in other communities? When you attend an MME or ICMA conference, are you doing business development for your firm? Depending on your answer to those and other questions, the perceptions may not be comfortable, and you may want to avoid this type of work. If you choose to do both, great discipline is required to maintain those boundaries and have confidence in your integrity. Ethical dilemmas commonly have these gray areas. Just as riders on the London Underground are advised to “mind the gap,” we should also carefully consider these gaps in the guidelines when making ethical choices.

turner-oliver-140x160Oliver Turner,
City Manager, Sault Ste. Marie
Chair, MME Ethics Committee

Oliver Turner began his employment as Sault Ste. Marie City Manager in June 2014. He has previously served as the Village Manager for the Village of Almont, MIchigan and has obtained additional local government experience with the City of Perrysburg, Ohio and retail management experience with BP Oil. Turner currently serves on the Michigan Local Government Management Association Board of Directors and is an active member of the International City/County Management Association and the Michigan Municipal League.