On Mar 20, 2009 Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute’s (APALI) Senior Fellows met for lunch at Cupertino’s Cypress Inn to discuss “ethical considerations for public officials.”
The program was a timely and lively discussion on ethics in general and how promising public careers are derailed by lapses in ethical behavior. Moderated by Dr. Michael Chang, APALI’s founder and executive director, the discussion was lead by panel members:
- Erica Yew, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge
- Kirk Hanson, Executive Director, Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
- Randy Okamura, President, San Jose/Evergreen Community College District Board of Trustees
The Senior Fellows luncheon was well attended by elected and appointed officials:
- Paul Fong, Assembly member, District 22
- Yoriko Kishimoto, Council member, City of Palo Alto
- Evan Low, Council member, City of Campbell
- Gilbert Wong, Council member, City of Cupertino
- Ash Kalra, Council member, San Jose
- Rod Hsiao, Trustee, San Mateo County Board of Education
- Jeff Gee, Planning Commissioner, City of Redwood City
- Grace Mah, Trustee, Santa Clara County Board of Education
- Art Takahara, former Council member and Mayor, City of Mountain View
- Patrick Kwok, Director, Santa Clara Valley Water District
- Lucy Koh, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge
- Thanh Ngo, Assistant District Attorney, Santa Clara County
- Carrie Zepeda, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge
- Alan Fong, Trustee, Orchard School District
- Cynthia Chang, Trustee, Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District
After the the discussion which included comments from everyone, Judge Yew expressed her thoughts to Dr. Chang:
Thank you, Michael, for giving us the forum to gather – you’ve created an amazing thing. Thank you, Randy, for the great idea – you spark a very interesting and energetic discussion. Thank you, Kirk – it was good to see you again and I learned more about the issue of ethics. I’ve come to see that for me a big piece of it is the lack of self interest, or selflessness. I’ve been having an internal quandary – whether there is a difference between what is ethical and what is moral and this piece about selflessness is helping me define it better for myself. Take good care, gentlemen! Great event.
Mr. Hanson added:
I agree with you that selflessness is at the core of everything. All five types of ethics questions require it –Determining the option which produces the greatest net benefit to ALL requires you not to value the impacts on yourself more than those on others. The rights concept requires an equal respect for the rights of others as for your own rights. And duties are responsibilities to others that you take upon yourself.
During the discussion, Mr. Hanson shared a document that was compiled by Judy Nadler, a Markkula Center Senior Fellow and former mayor of the City of Santa Clara. Ms. Nadler convened mayors and council members from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to share the top ethical dilemas confronting every person who comes into local elected office. The following document can be found on the Markkula Center’s website:
Unavoidable Ethical Dilemmas of Newly Elected Local Officials
1. Now that you are elected, with whom can you meet, and what can you talk about?
Members of council outside of public meetings (Brown Act rules)?
Union leaders without violating the collective bargaining process?
Petitioners and special interest groups?
Contractors who are bidding on government projects?
Developers and others with business before cities?
2. What do you owe those who supported and elected you?
Can you show favoritism to supporters?
Should you vote against those who worked against you?
Should appointments to commissions go to political friends and insiders?
3. Whom do you represent?
Your personal priorities and values?
Your neighborhood or the larger community?
Your community or broader regional and national priorities?
4. Are you a public servant or a politician—or both?
Supporting good public policies vs. advancing your political interests
Supporting good public policies vs. the interests of your political group
Supporting good public policies vs. creating political IOUs
5. Where are your personal conflicts of interest?
Family and personal relationships?
What do you have to resign from?
On what matters should you recuse yourself?
6. How do you honestly present your positions on issues?
When do you reveal your position?
Should you obfuscate your position for political gain?
Do you reveal why you voted for something?
When can you legitimately abstain from voting?
How can you present an honest change of position?
7. What ethical standards apply to the process of decision making and contracting?
What are the standards of due consideration?
What is fair treatment of petitioners?
What is fair treatment of bidders for city contracts?
What communication with bidders or vendors is permitted?
8. How can you use your power and position in other parts of your life?
Benefiting your business or profession?
Job seeking for yourself, for your family and friends?
Favoring your charities, your associations, etc.?
Using your title, using the city seal?
Abrogating parking tickets, etc.?
Using influence to get grants for favorite causes?
9. What gifts and freebies can you take?
What are the requirements of California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) standards?
What actually compromises you?
What appears to compromise you?
What is the motive of others who are giving you gifts?
What are the limits on seeking freebies and preferential treatment?
10. How can you help those who seek your assistance?
Other elected officials—I’ll scratch your back; you scratch mine
Building your own political IOUs
11. What is your proper relationship with city staff?
With whom can you confer?
What can you discuss with a staff person who is a personal friend?
When can you make specific requests of staff?
What important information should you share with staff?
Are there different standards for meetings, conversations, correspondence, emails, etc.?
12. What information should you bring to your decisions?
Should you rely totally on formal information and recommendations presented to you by staff?
Can you investigate issues personally?
What actions undermine city staff?
13. What is personal integrity in political life?
Your commitment to work hard enough to do a quality job
Your willingness to speak the truth even if it is uncomfortable
Your ability to withstand pressures to influence your votes
Your ability to resist temptation to take advantage of your position
14. How do you handle conflicts between your role as a council member and as member of a special commission?
Differences between your position and that of your city
Differences among the several cities you may represent
15. How do you deal with “friends of the city?”
Former elected officials
Former city officials and staff
Prominent community members
16. How do you function as a minority or even a whistleblower?
Should you join a voting bloc or remain independent?
When should you voice dissent from a majority position?
When shoud you be a whistleblower?
17. What level of respect and civility should exist among council members?
What do respect and civility require toward colleagues, staff and the public, especially when offering criticism?
Toward those you do not trust?
What is your duty to respect the will of the council when you have lost on a particular issue?
When should you seek outside information or expertise?
How can trust be built and sustained?
18. How do you protect the confidentiality of information made available to you as a council member?
Closed session confidentiality
Trading and doing business based on insider information
19. How do you deal ethically with the press?
Respecting the confidentiality of sessions and issues
Keeping colleagues and staff informed
Clearly label your views vs. the city’s views
Accurately characterizing your opponent’s views
20. How can you ethically campaign while in office?
Twisting arms with implied threats regarding current business?
Making current decisions based on political contributions or support?
Using insider information to favor your campaign?
Using privileged access to city government and community to favor your campaign?
Promoting initiatives solely to create a record for your campaign?
Accurately representing your record and past role in government?
Visit the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics to help you discover answers to the posed dilemmas.