To access the ICMA Rules of Procedure for Enforcement of the Code of Ethics (Rules), click the Download button. A brief background on the Rules and frequently asked questions are provided below.
ICMA’s Code of Ethics
Promoting an ethical culture in local government management has been at the very core of ICMA’s mission since the membership adopted the ICMA Code of Ethics (Code) in 1924. The Code expresses the professional and personal conduct expected of members and also defines the values that serve as the basis for building and maintaining trust in the local government management profession.
The Code creates a bond with members in their shared commitment to ethical conduct with the Code’s core principles identified below:
- Uphold the commitment to professional management, the value of public services, honesty and integrity, political neutrality, and seeking no personal gain as a result of the position held.
- Demonstrate exemplary conduct in both personal and professional matters.
- Respect the role and contributions of elected officials.
- Serve the public equitably and governing body members equally.
- Keep the community informed about local government matters.
- Support and lead employees.
As a condition for joining ICMA, an individual agrees to adhere to the Code. A member in service to a local government, or special district, municipal league, or council of governments, regardless of whether it is on a full-time, part-time, or interim basis, or as an intern, must comply with the entire Code. Members who are working in another field, students, or retirees must follow Tenets 1 (Democracy) and Tenet 3 (Integrity). Tenet 7 (political activity) does not apply to elected officials.
When allegations of unethical conduct by public officials go unaddressed, this can undermine the public’s trust in local government and harm the reputation of the profession. One critical element of ICMA’s approach to maintaining ethics within the profession is to hold our members accountable for their conduct. When a member’s conduct raises ethical concerns, ICMA carries out a formal peer review process to objectively determine whether the member violated the Code.
The ICMA Constitution provides for the ICMA Executive Board (Board) to establish a standing Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) and gives the full Board the authority to adopt Rules of Procedure for Enforcement of the Code of Ethics (Rules). The Board adopted the Rules formalizing the peer-review complaint process steps and timelines. The Rules authorize the CPC to investigate ethics complaints, determine when a violation of the Code has occurred, and recommend sanctions for member conduct in violation of the Code to the full Board.
The graphic below depicts the key steps of the ethics enforcement process.
The following frequently asked questions provide key information about ICMA’s enforcement process for members and any individuals interested in filing a complaint alleging that a member’s conduct may have violated the Code.
When does ICMA start an ethics review? What is required to do so?
ICMA initiates a review of a member’s conduct alleged to have violated the Code when a valid complaint is filed. The complaint must be in writing, clearly describe how the complainant believes the alleged misconduct may have violated the Code, and provide documentation supporting the allegation from the complainant’s perspective. Complainants can choose to remain anonymous or be named to the member as the individual filing the complaint.
Complaints can be submitted to ICMA by completing this form. ICMA staff then reviews the complaint and documentation to assess whether the alleged misconduct, if proven true, could be a violation of the Code. If so, ICMA proceeds with a formal review. When a determination is needed, the CPC evaluates the complaint to reach a decision about whether to begin a formal review.
ICMA staff working on ethics issues do not initiate these reviews because their role is to administer the enforcement process and serve as the principal point of contact for members. It would be a conflict of interest to serve as both the complainant and the process administrator.
Does ICMA tell the member a complaint has been filed?
Yes, the process is fully transparent to the member. The member is given the opportunity to review the entire complaint and all supporting documents to provide a written response to the CPC. The opportunity to explain what transpired and provide supporting documentation, as well as statements from others, is key to getting at the facts of the matter.
ICMA begins the process with the presumption that a member has conducted themselves ethically unless, and until, the facts prove otherwise and with an understanding that the information included with the complaint may be incomplete.
What role does fact-finding play?
The CPC reviews the member’s response and if the facts are clear, it will draw a conclusion as to whether the member’s conduct violated the Code. If there are insufficient facts or the member fails to respond to ICMA’s request for their perspective on the matter, the next step is for the CPC to ask the state association president to appoint a fact-finding committee of at least three ICMA members from the state where the member works or worked at the time the conduct alleged to have violated the Code occurred.
Members assigned to the fact-finding committee offer the member the opportunity to meet with them, and may interview others connected to the case, as well as collect public records, and in a situation involving legal matters, obtain court records. The fact-finding committee is not asked to determine whether the member’s conduct has violated the Code. Once the fact-finding committee submits its findings to the CPC for review in a summary report, a copy of the report is provided to the member to provide any written comments on the report to the CPC.
Does ICMA share that it is investigating an allegation of a member’s misconduct?
The entire review process is confidential, unless and until it results in the Board’s finding a member’s conduct has violated the Code and the appropriate sanction is a public one. Absent that, ICMA does not comment that a member’s conduct may be under review and every ICMA member involved in the process must maintain confidentiality about the matter under review.
What factors are considered in reaching a decision on a member’s conduct?
ICMA’s ethics review decisions are based on established facts. In reaching the determination of whether the member’s conduct violated the Code, examples of the factors that may be considered include the nature and willfulness of the violation, if the member had any prior ethics violations, and the level of the member’s professional or public responsibility.
What are the penalties?
If the CPC concludes the member’s conduct violated the Code, it can select from an array of sanctions, including private censure, public censure, suspension from membership for up to five years, permanent membership expulsion or bar, and credential revocation. All of the options beyond a private censure require the full Board’s approval.
The member has the right to appeal any sanction to the Board and request a hearing before the Board in an executive session.
If a member resigns from ICMA, does the ethics complaint process end?
No. Once ICMA initiates an ethics review, it will continue the process to its conclusion; however, ICMA cannot open a case about a former member’s alleged conduct unless that individual agrees to participate.
How long does the process take to conclude?
The deliberative nature of the process ensures the case is handled fairly with the understanding that the outcome may impact the member’s professional reputation and has the potential to affect the member’s governing body, the community where the member works or worked, and the local government management profession.
The Rules provide deadlines to keep the review moving forward in a timely manner. A resolution is reached for most complaints in about six months from the time a complete complaint is submitted to ICMA. There are some circumstances when it may take longer, such as when the complainant provides incomplete documentation to proceed or if pending legal matters or other circumstances result in a delay in ascertaining the facts about the member’s conduct.
How is the outcome publicized?
ICMA notifies the complainant and the state association president that the matter has been resolved. When the individuals involved are members, ICMA shares what factors were considered in reaching the decision. If the individual submitting a complaint is not a member, ICMA has no mechanism to enforce the confidentiality of the outcome so in this situation the complainant is notified only that the ethics review is complete.
Beyond notification to the aforementioned individuals, a private censure receives no public comment from ICMA.
A public censure notice goes to the complainant, the state association president, the appropriate governing body, and a press release is shared with local news media and with all members via the ICMA newsletter.
If you have any questions about ICMA’s ethics enforcement process, please contact Jessica Cowles, Ethics Advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-962-3513; or Martha Perego, Director of Member Services and Ethics, at email@example.com or 202-962-3668.