ICMA members with a zeal for public service often commit to volunteer and community service in their personal time. Tenet 12 of the ICMA Code of Ethics and its gifts and conflict-of-interest guidelines are not intended to prohibit community service, but they add some important dimensions to decision making. There may be some pitfalls, for instance, in serving on boards of directors of nonprofit organizations that could put members in an ethically vulnerable position. Members should consider the following questions before engaging in community service: 

  1. Are your local circumstances such that it would be wise to consult with elected officials before making a commitment, or to inform them after having made it?
  2. Could your board service lead a reasonable person to question the member’s first loyalty, which is owed to the local government?
  3. Does, or is there a likelihood that, the organization will come before your local government to request funding or other consideration? It is an inherent conflict of interest that cannot be cured by public disclosure for a manager to serve on a board that receives funding from the local government or for a staff member to do so when he or she makes recommendations on funding. The exception to this would be if the appointment was made by the governing body for public interest purposes.   
  4. What about appearances? Would your involvement appear to lend support to one group in the community over another?
  5. Is it likely that you will be in a position of having to abstain from a decision of the nonprofit board because of a conflict of interest?  The ICMA Committee on Professional Conduct has advised that it is unacceptable for a member to abstain from or to avoid advising elected officials because of the member’s position on a community board or commission that creates a conflict of interest.  Your primary duty is to provide advice and counsel to the government body, and circumstances in which such advice might be withheld must be avoided.
  6. In instances in which you must abstain from voting on a board decision because of a conflict of interest, can you still be an effective board member?
  7. Will you be expected to engage in fund raising?  If so, please review the comprehensive advice offered by ICMA on fundraising. Tenet 12 advises members to avoid soliciting money when “it could be reasonably inferred or expected that the gift was intended to influence them in the performance of their official duties.”
  8. Are you free to terminate the outside involvement without difficulty in the event that a conflict of interest arises that cannot otherwise be avoided?