During its December 11, 2021, meeting, the ICMA Executive Board voted to approve the following ethics recommendations from the ICMA Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) after a thorough review process.
Jennifer Johnsen, former village administrator, East Dundee, Illinois, was publicly censured and expelled from membership for conduct that violated Tenet 3 of the Code of Ethics. Johnsen wrote a letter to village employees in May 2021 acknowledging her involvement in a romantic relationship with the East Dundee assistant administrator, Brad Mitchell. In this letter, Johnsen explained she and Mitchell were expecting a child together in October 2021 and planned to marry in the future.
The CPC concluded Johnsen was not forthcoming with the governing body about her relationship with Mitchell until an anonymous letter prompted her to disclose it and this delay created the opportunity to put other employees who were aware of the relationship in a difficult position. The board concurred with the CPC’s determination that when a manager engages in a romantic relationship with a subordinate employee, it runs contrary to the manager’s ethical duty to maintain public confidence in the position and in the local government management profession, as well as the manager’s responsibility to mitigate the organization’s exposure to legal and financial risks.
Brad Mitchell, assistant village administrator, East Dundee, Illinois, was publicly censured and expelled from membership for conduct that violated Tenet 3 of the Code of Ethics. The CPC found that although the village’s personnel policy may not outright prohibit a relationship in the workplace between a supervisor and subordinate, the absence of a policy does not mean it is appropriate and members are always expected to adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct in order to maintain public trust in the organization and community.
The board agreed with the CPC’s determination that Mitchell’s conduct (1) exposed the village to legal and financial risks that Mitchell would have likely been aware of due to his oversight of human resources for the village; and (2) created the opportunity to strain the rapport between the assistant administrator’s position and the other employees who report to the manager by causing unnecessary conflict within the organization due to the appearance of Mitchell receiving special treatment.
Tenet 3 of the ICMA Code of Ethics Tenet pertains to a member’s ethical obligation to uphold public confidence in his or her position and the profession, demonstrate the highest standards of honesty and integrity in both personal and professional conduct, and not engage in personal relationships in the workplace.
Members are encouraged to read the ICMA Code of Ethics and Guidelines. As a member benefit, ICMA provides confidential advice to any members who may be uncertain of their ethical obligation or who need guidance to resolve an ethical dilemma. Contact Martha Perego, director of ICMA Member Services and Ethics, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-962-3668; or Jessica Cowles, ethics advisor, at email@example.com or 202-962-3513. Ethics advice, information, and the ICMA Code of Ethics are available online.