CODE OF ETHICS, WHAT AND WHY
In our daily lives we are faced with important questions about what to do. It happens constantly. Should I keep my promise or should I not? Should I call in sick so I can get my Christmas shopping done, or should I not? These are tests of ethics.
Like personal ethics, there are standards applied to many facets of life. Ethics in medicine, the environment, the media, education, well, you get the point.
In government, ethics refers to a professional code of conduct for those working in and for government that involve protocols about right and wrong behaviors for many different groups, like elected representatives (councilmembers, in the case of Islamorada), staff, and other public servants.
Navigating in this world, government officials and employees are faced with many difficult and unique ethical questions and tests. Should elected representatives or government staff be allowed to accept expensive gifts from lobby groups? Or should our elected representatives disclose business relationships they may have with people who come before the council?
Ethics identifies what are correct behaviors in different situations and establishes rules of conduct for elected officials and staff to follow.
And while lip service has been paid to the discussion of ethics, adherence to the code, and ways to ensure rules are enforced, nothing has changed since we were incorporated more than 22 years ago.
When you think about it, the notion of self-governance is more of a handshake and a promise that elected and appointed officials will conduct themselves in the public’s best interest. Yes, we have Codes of Ethics, but they are meaningless if not followed.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THAT FAILS
Our political systems only function properly if our citizens are actively engaged in the process.
When stakeholders come to believe that those in charge are generally unethical or corrupt – and just downright unfair – they begin to develop a strong lack of enthusiasm towards their local, state, or federal governments.
THE PEOPLE WITHDRAW, BAD GUYS WIN
This creates a scenario where people withdraw from participating – in government, citizens won’t bother to vote, and in an organization, employees won’t bother to shed light on wrongdoing – both situations resulting in the “why bother, they’re all crooks anyway” comments.
This is a reality that has become more and more pervasive at all levels of government. This fact is the very reason ethics matter.
Establishing a level playing field, where everyone understands and agrees to the rules, is the best way to keep the sparkle in Islamorada. Otherwise, we are merely a real estate transaction waiting to happen. And what makes us unique is lost.
We may never change things at the state or federal levels, but we can absolutely do it right here, in our own town, the Village of Islamorada.
ISLAMORADA’S WRITTEN CODE OF ETHICS
The following comes from the Village’s own code as written and adopted in 1998.
DIVISION 2. – CODE OF ETHICS
Sec. 2-51. – Purpose and intent.
Essential to the proper operation of the village is the commitment of its elected and appointed officials and employees to independence, impartiality, and responsibility to the people they serve. To achieve this goal, it is necessary that government decisions and policy be made through the proper channels of the governmental structure, that public office and employment not be used for personal gain, and that the people have confidence in the integrity of their government. The public interest, therefore, requires that the law protect against any conflict of interest and establish standards for the conduct of elected and appointed officials and government employees.
(Ord. No. 98-05, § 1(a), 7-23-1998)
Sec. 2-52. – Adoption of state law.
The provisions of F.S. ch. 112, pt. III (F.S. § 112.311 et seq.), the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, as amended from time to time, are hereby adopted as the code of ethics for the village.