Political neutrality is the cornerstone of the local government management profession and has been a core value in every version of the Code of Ethics since membership first adopted it in 1924.
Any local, state, or federal issue has the potential to be both galvanizing and polarizing in the community and within a member’s own organization. A commitment to political neutrality ensures the member is always seen as objective and fair as well as the source of unbiased information.
ICMA’s Committee on Professional Conduct, the Executive Board subcommittee that determines whether a member’s conduct has violated the Code, has consistently concluded a member cannot effectively serve the organization when the member engages in political activity such as endorsing candidates, writing an article supporting the candidate, making financial contributions to candidates, or running for office themselves. A member has the right and responsibility to vote for candidates for elected office but may not financially support or endorse candidates for any local, state, or federal office.
Tenet 7 and its guidelines have been revised over the years to provide a framework for members on how they may engage while maintaining their commitment to the highest ethical standards expected of individuals working in service to a local government.
Applicable Tenet and Guidelines
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.
Elections of the Governing Body. Members should maintain a reputation for serving equally and impartially all members of the governing body of the local government they serve, regardless of party. To this end, they should not participate in an election campaign on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for the governing body.
Elections of Elected Executives. Members shall not participate in the election campaign of any candidate for mayor or elected county executive.
Running for Office. Members shall not run for elected office or become involved in political activities related to running for elected office, or accept appointment to an elected office. They shall not seek political endorsements, financial contributions or engage in other campaign activities.
Elections. Members share with their fellow citizens the right and responsibility to vote. However, in order not to impair their effectiveness on behalf of the local governments they serve, they shall not participate in political activities to support the candidacy of individuals running for any city, county, special district, school, state or federal offices. Specifically, they shall not endorse candidates, make financial contributions, sign or circulate petitions, or participate in fund-raising activities for individuals seeking or holding elected office.
Elections relating to the Form of Government. 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.
Presentation of Issues. 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.
Personal Advocacy of Issues. 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.
PM Magazine Articles
- Thriving in the 24/7 World of Politics (April 2023)
- Err on the Side of Caution (September 2022)
- Democrat or Republican Manager? Why It's Crucial to Stay Politically Neutral (August 2022)
- Right, Wrong, or Just Blurry? (May 2022)
- Resolving Everyday Ethics Challenges: Why Seeking Advice Is Beneficial (June 2021)
- Being Politically Neutral in a Partisan World (April 2021)
- Is It Election Season … Again? (July 2020)
- What If I Want to March? (March 2020)
- Surviving the Election Season (July 2019)
- Professional Fouls (June 2017)
- Cookingham’s Legacy (September 2016)
- Map Your Path to Election Day – Part 2 (August 2016)
- Map Your Path to Election Day - Part 1 (July 2016)