As we look forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the ICMA Code of Ethics by members at the 1924 Annual Conference in Montreal, it is important to take a moment to appreciate how the Code guides our professional and personal lives.
Tenet 3 of the Code advises members to “Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.”
Every Member Must Adhere to Tenet 3
Because of its importance, this tenet applies to all in ICMA regardless of whether the member is actively in service to a local government, supporting the profession as a consultant, or permanently retired.
Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.
Kevin Woodhouse’s article in the March 2020 edition of PM, “Strengthening Your Moral Compass to Overcome Ethical Roadblocks,” is a great starting point for consideration of this issue and is worth re-reading.
As we gathered in Austin for the 2023 ICMA Annual Conference, the membership was a source of inspiration for how this value is demonstrated in the profession. Just a few examples:
- Standing up to elected officials because they are asking a manager to do something unethical, even if it means the manager pays the ultimate price in getting fired.
- Doing the right thing when no one is watching as those that occupy the top of the organization chart with little immediate oversight can attest.
- Demonstrating strength, humility, and character in helping a community heal from tragedy.
The In Memoriam portion of the opening ceremony in Austin always sparks meaningful reflection on our moral compass that guides the way we approach each situation, and indeed our lives. This moral compass for me means digging deeper than you ever have before to persevere through personally difficult circumstances with the assistance of family, friends, and colleagues.
In late November 2022, I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, then underwent brain surgery. My life hung in the balance in the ICU, but I was unaware of this reality at the time. As hard as those few weeks were for my body, the work of recovering my mind began at once and in earnest. Learning to eat, walk, talk, and drive again followed. Bless the creators of spell check these days! I experience victories and setbacks along the way and perhaps always will.
Perspective has become poignant for me because when everything else is stripped away, your moral compass remains. It is one of the characteristics that define us as human beings. Parents, guardians, education, religion, and work culture silently guide us as we address our struggles. What is right? What is wrong? How should I proceed?
Tenet 3 Guides a Public Servant’s Heart
A quick Google search illustrates that most codes of ethics or codes of conduct stress how critical it is to demonstrate honesty and integrity since these characteristics define any personal or professional approach. Examples from other associations include the American Society for Public Administration, American Planning Association’s Code for the American Institute of Certified Planners, American Library Association, and National Association of Social Workers.
Going a step further, I would say the commitment to honesty and integrity guides our life as public servants. I’m guessing most members do not choose this profession to see their name on a building or for the paycheck; a life in public service means doing what is right for the community and Tenet 3 is how we carry out that vision.
I have always liked the Warren Buffet quote, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Last week I saw this quotation painted in one of the rooms at my local library and now I know why it resonates! It is what we do in public service: we work toward the greater good for all. We are drawn to this hard work—such as offering solutions to thorny problems—and we engage with employees, elected officials, and the community to make it all happen. We use our moral compass as embodied in the principles of the ICMA Code of Ethics to perform this important work.
What does Tenet 3 mean to you? How does it shape your professional and personal conduct? Write me at email@example.com and share your perspective. I look forward to it!
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