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No need for so-called code of ethics in SCV

Democratic Voices

Posted: May 12, 2008 2:53 a.m.
Updated: July 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Puls•kamp•er•ie –noun 1. the ability to make the people believe you addressed a problem while actually doing nothing. 2. actions taken by a group of people to prevent the true nature of their endeavors from escaping their group, or becoming well know to the public: "The staff members used Puskamperie to keep the facts from reaching the newspapers."

Ken Pulskamp has reached a new low in Orwellian Doublespeak and hypocrisy in his efforts to establish a city code of ethics — one that does absolutely nothing to assure better behavior by anyone at City Hall.

The Santa Clarita City Council is being encouraged by City Manager Ken Pulskamp and city staff to approve a city "Code of Ethics and Conduct." The code is supposed to govern every city official, employee and volunteer. City staff have created this document without direction from the council to do so.

According to the documents accompanying the resolution to enact the ethics code, "During the City Council meeting held on August 28, 2007, Council Members directed staff and the City Attorney's Office to gather information of existing state and federal laws that govern the City of Santa Clarita. In addition, Council asked staff to consolidate into one document the myriad of existing City policies that govern the ethical behavior and actions of the City Council and staff."

They did that, and by the way, wrote a code of ethics — that's Pulskamperie.

Last August, a host of citizens spoke to the City Council about apparent ethical transgressions and the need for a city code of ethics. Then-Councilman TimBen Boydston suggested staff put it on the agenda for study. Some council members went ballistic in opposition, and no other council member seconded Boydston's motion.

They did suggest looking at it again after the election in April and compiling a comprehensive document outlining all the existing laws and regulations (which, by the way, was supposed to be completed within about 30 days).

There was no direction to create a code of ethics, much less direction given to exclude the public from the process. You would think an issues this important would benefit greatly from community input.

On Tuesday, Pulskamp and staff will be recommending the adoption of a "Code of Ethics and Conduct."

At some point since last August, Ken Puskamp must have decided to get in front of the issue and write the kind of code of ethics he could live with (and one that he could protect his staff with). Unfortunately, it's one from which the people of Santa Clarita will gain nothing. And I don't say that lightly, I invite you to examine the documents attached to the agenda at http://www.santa-clarita.com/cityhall/agendas/council/print_attachment.asp?ID=7043.

Let's take a look at the proposed code of ethics. Under "Purpose" it states "At the City of Santa Clarita, we believe ethical conduct requires more than simply complying with the laws and regulations that govern our organization."

This sounds good, but the policy does not establish even one additional regulation for city folks to follow. Nor does it establish a mechanism to deal with alleged transgressions by the city. Nor does it establish any official city remedy for those city people who are found to violate any ethical guidelines.

The proposed code of ethics lists 17 subsections that basically fall into one of two categories; one, that covered individuals should follow existing laws; or two, statements that expand on the city's philosophy of being good, honest people. These guideline may sound like laudable ideals, but there is nothing there, beyond platitudes and legal regurgitation. The city continues to adhere to its philosophy of adhering to the bare minimum legal requirement of ethics.

Subsection 6 states that "covered persons will work for the common good of the people of the City and not any private or personal interest. ..." That sounds good, but what about the cases when it comes into conflict with Subsection 12, which states "Covered persons shall represent the official policies or positions of the City Council, board, commission, or committee to the best of their ability."

What if a staff person sees superiors promoting a particular "City Endorsed" resolution to an issue that benefits a private developer to the detriment of citizens living in a particular neighborhood? Sub 12 directs staff to oppose Sub 6.

That brings up another important issue: What if a staff member discovers an apparent ethical transgression by staff? There is no place for that employee to go to report that transgression. There is no independent body established to deal with allegations of wrongdoing. The staff report suggests that the way staff has dealt with ethical accusations to date is just fine.

Ken Pulskamp appointed his chief deputy to investigate an embarrassing e-mail that suggested collusion between staff and a private developer. It was subsequently leaked to the press — and Pulskamp concluded (several times) that there was no wrongdoing.

Pulskamp wants no one to inhibit his rule, and he's determined to keep it that way. He has suggested no mechanism to aid or protect employees who find and speak out about questionable behavior.

Subsection 14 is also interesting, as it says: "members of Council shall refrain from using their positions to influence unduly the deliberations or outcomes of board, commission, and committee proceedings." It fails to specify the appropriate amount of influence council members are allowed to use to accomplish their own goals — just as it is now.

Sub 15 advises officials to be careful giving direction to staff, saying "refrain from creating the perception of inappropriate direction to staff." Why not have some rules that delineate what is appropriate and what is not, or is it just the perception he worries about?

The last paragraph of the so-called "Code of Ethics and Conduct" contains the quintessential example of Pulskamperie. It says: "Any persons who believe that a City official, employee, or volunteer has violated this Code of Ethics and Conduct shall report the allegation to the proper agency." The joke's on us — there is no such city agency, and if Ken Pulskamp has his way, there never will be.

If you like the city manager having the final say on everything at City Hall, come on down Tuesday at 6 p.m. and make a public statement. If, on the other hand, you believe that the city must heal the pervasive secret backroom culture that currently dominates the status quo, make your thoughts and feelings known at Tuesday evening's council meeting. See you there.

Bruce McFarland is a 30-year resident of the SCV, a founding organizer of SCV Ethics Alliance and a candidate for the California state senate. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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