Ethics ordinance a positive step forward
June 3, 2011
The City Council’s recent ethics ordinance — which most notably aims to keep employees from signing off on contracts in return for jobs — is a fantastic step forward. However, this ordinance should also apply to members of the Newcastle City Council.
The existing code of ethics was too broad and did not hold employees accountable, whereas the new ordinance does — through fines. This new degree of accountability should give residents a higher level of confidence in their government.
The ordinance — which applies to employees for one year after they leave the city — should also discourage suspicious situations from originating, such as the departure of former Public Works Director Maiya Andrews. After resigning in February 2010, Andrews took a job with contractor CH2M Hill, which she worked with on the Coal Creek Parkway and Newcastle Transit Improvement projects.
There is no evidence that Andrews used her power at the city to obtain a job with the company. In fact, City Manager Rob Wyman said it would be reasonable to assume she would not have been subject to the new regulations had they been in place when she left the city and joined CH2M Hill.
Nevertheless, the situation is a hair-raiser. When Andrews recommended change to the city’s contracts with C.A. Carey Corp. and Marshbank Construction, CH2M Hill was given more work to manage and more money from the city.
Even if there is no wrongdoing, these types of situations adversely impact the city’s image and diminish residents’ trust. The new regulations may not apply to situations like that of Maiya Andrews, but they may discourage them, and the ordinance proves the city is serious about such ethical issues.
It is refreshing to see this ordinance apply to the entire city staff, but it only makes sense to apply these regulations to the elected members of the council. Although each individual member of the council has no authority on his or her own, each plays a role in making the most significant decisions in the city.
The ordinance is well-written, and only substantial conflicts of interest would be in violation. If a member of the council is found guilty of such a conflict of interest, he or she should face the same fine as a member of the city staff.