Tenet 7 of the ICMA Code of Ethics draws a distinction between activities on behalf of a candidate for elected office (such activities are not permitted) and advocacy for issues (these are permitted). The Code recognizes that there is a legitimate role members can play in providing crucial information to governing bodies and the voters on the impact of ballot measures.  The guidelines also permit members to provide information and assistance with elections on the council-manager form of government.  Lastly, a new guideline added in 2014 reinforces the long held position that members have the right to express their opinion on policy matters. 

Tenet 7. Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators.  Refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body.



Members may assist in preparing and presenting materials that explain the form of government to the public prior to a form of government election.  If assistance is required by another community, members may respond. 


Members may assist their governing body in the presentation of issues involved in referenda such as bond issues, annexations, and other matters that affect the government entity’s operations and/or fiscal capacity.


Members share with their fellow citizens the right and responsibility to voice their opinion on public issues. Members may advocate for issues of personal interest only when doing so does not conflict with the performance of their official duties. 

Members may make financial contributions to issue-oriented political action committees (PACs), publicly express their views, and actively engage in the debate and dialogue. As members consider their involvement, they should keep in mind these points:

  1. Know and comply with the law regarding use of public resources for ballot measures. Many states prohibit the use of public time or resources on measures once they are formally placed on the ballot.
  2. Consider where the governing body stands on the issue. If governing body members are opposed or divided, a lower-profile strategy limited to providing background information on the measure may be wise.
  3. Prepare in advance the communication plan for any ballot measures that are directly related to the local government. The plan should detail how information will be distributed to the public, what role staff will play (i.e. does the governing body expect staff to be an advocate for or against or be neutral?), and what resources will be devoted to the matter.  Clarity at the beginning of the process will help to offset the possibility of misunderstandings.
  4. Caution is necessary even if you decide to actively join the debate. Think carefully about the most effective role you can play and what impact your involvement may have on your ability to serve the local government.
  5. If you feel compelled to raise funds for the measure, do not ask your staff to contribute, as they may not feel free to say no.

This advice works for senior staff as well as the manager. A strong argument can be made that the proper role for all staff is to provide the information and then let the voters decide. There is an equally compelling argument that, as professionals who have expertise in local government operations and a vested interest in the future of the community, it’s an act of integrity on the part of leaders to make their voices heard.

Ethical scenarios from PM’s Ethics Matter!

 Off to the Election Races (2010)


 Politics, Issues, and Lame Ducks (2009)