This story also appeared on City Hall Blog of The Dallas Morning News.

Strong ethics must start at the top, Dallas Council told

Rudolph Bush, The Dallas Morning News, November 2, 2011

The Dallas City Council listened for an hour this morning to a discussion of ethics in government, something many residents see as lacking in the behavior of some local officials.

Creating an ethical culture in an organization takes courage, conviction and leadership, panel members said during a conference on ethics, trust and transparency sponsored by the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at Southern Methodist University.

“We have to have this higher standard we are aiming for in all of our endeavors. It is a culture, and culture is established by leaders. Create a focus on doing what is right even when it costs you personally. Even when it costs you your career,” said Arthur Athens, director of the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Judy Nadler, the former mayor of Santa Clara, California, had practical advice.

Vendors who do business with the city should be subject to its ethical rules. Policies governing behavior should be front and center on the city’s website as a message of their importance to the organization, she said.

She also touched on an area that has become a hot button issue at City Hall – the role of lobbyists who act as consultants or have other relationships with council members.

“When that person comes before the council, which hat is being worn at that particular time?” she asked.

She noted that the city of San Jose publishes the calendars of top elected officials and staff on its website.

The public has a limited chance to talk to officials – usually at council meetings.

San Jose residents demanded access to officials’ schedules because “there were a lot of deals being made in other places.”

“People want to know who you are talking to,” Nadler said.

Mayor Mike Rawlings asked the council and high-level city staff to attend the meeting as part of a focus on increasing ethical standards at City Hall.

He said it was time well spent.

“It’s not about rules. It’s about values. Great leaders have values citizens want,” he said.
Rawlings didn’t immediately endorse any of the ideas promoted by Nadler or other panel members, but he said their ideas should be discussed further.

“This is exactly what I wanted to have happen. This is fodder for the committees to discuss those ideas,” he said.

City Manager Mary Suhm said she was glad her staff attended.

“As one of the speakers said, this is a discussion that has to be ongoing,” she said.

Council member Tennell Atkins’ takeaway was that city staff needs to be subject to more disclosure about its dealings with outside lobbyists and other influences.

“When staff brings stuff to us, they should be held to the same account we are,” he said.

Suhm answered that, ” I do the same disclosure he does.”
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