Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

City Hall has adopted a new values based ethics system that will guide employee actions as part of a broader ethics debate citywide.

At their Nov. 24 meeting, Council formally approved a values based system of behavior that will be incorporated into multiple city documents. The action is the result of a Council request to bring Santa Monica policies in line with existing best practices and while ethics are already addressed in several places, including state law, the city charter and municipal code, the city had lacked specific articulation of the values they want to represent.

“While the organization has been without a Council-adopted values-based Code of Ethics, ethical challenges and violations have been few and far between. This is likely because the City adheres to the ethical standards established by state law, the City Charter, the Municipal Code and the City’s internal Administrative Instructions. Thus, cultural expectations for employee behavior have long included maintaining the highest ethical standards,” read the staff report.

Community activists argued against adoption of the code last week saying any action should wait until the city receives a report from its recently hired independent advisor.

“A comprehensive ethics code requires enforcement,” Lawrence Eubank said. “The staff product is neither comprehensive, nor did the formulation process include either Santa Monica business owners or resident constituencies. The draft ethics code has no clear enforcement of stated values, nor does it propose specific prohibitions on actions not covered by state or local law.”

He said any ethics discussion should include community input and enforcement policies.

“In effect, city employees have written the rules that govern their actions and further they recommend that the council give them carte blanche for implementation of their own recommendations. This closed circle is the antithesis of democratic excellence.”

Deputy City Manager Danielle Noble said the item before council last week was an initial step that was created specifically to begin the process of a larger reform.

“We know this program will evolve over time and we look forward to your feedback,” she said. “We would return to the council with additional recommendations, including things that come up out of the independent advisors review of the of council manager best practices.”

Mayor Kevin McKeown said it was important to explain the council’s action as a first step.

“I think that the clarification that this is intended as a limited, partial and interim action is an important clarification hearing the concerns from the public,” he said.

Adoption of the stated values doesn’t require a council action. The City Manager has the authority to adopt the values without a public hearing, but staff said they wanted the council to be on the record with approval of the statement.

“We know that this is a statement for the organization, and it’s in important statement so we felt it would be inappropriate to move forward with a set of values that the council did not have the opportunity to weigh in on,” said Noble.

The values statement will be featured throughout City documents and employees will encounter the ethics discussion starting in their interview process.

Cole said members of organizations conform to the standards that are set when those standards are made a central part of the organization’s culture. He said the actions that night were in now way a substitution for the kind of actions that could come out of the independent review, but reiterated the need to begin establishing a foundation that can be used to influence the larger culture.

“If you set high standards the vast majority of people will conform to those standards, if you set low standards, over time, more and more people will treat those as a floor,” he said.

While the new language is just a set of values, city attorney Marsha Moutrie said simply refining that language will aid in enforcement of existing rules because it provides supervisors with a measurement for employee behavior.

“I think it has, besides laying the groundwork for the kind of effort the manager has described, it has immediate practical value in terms of holding employees accountable,” she said.

Cole said the City’s goal with the adopted values is to inspire employees.

“It’s not to start on the foot of expecting wrongdoing,” he said. “We’re expecting people to uphold the highest ideals of public service, that’s what we’re going to be accentuating and that’s what we’re going to be enforcing.

The system adopted by council includes four values with corresponding statements:

Fairness:

ο I value all stakeholders, and treat all people with dignity.

ο I follow City processes and maintain objectivity in my decision-making.

ο I provide equal access to all.

ο I respect diversity of opinions.

Integrity:

ο I am a guardian of the public’s trust.

ο I represent the City well, refraining from acts that may bring reproach or discredit to the City.

ο I use public resources appropriately, not for private benefit or political purposes.

ο I decline and do not seek gifts, favors, and other special treatment.

Transparency:

ο I support the public’s right to know by making information accessible.

ο I facilitate public involvement in decision-making processes.

ο I disclose information that may be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Accountability:

ο I accept individual and collective responsibility for my actions.

ο I adhere to laws, policies, standards of conduct, and report violations.

ο I am Reliable, Respectful, Resourceful, Responsive, and Reflective.

editor@www.smdp.com