Promoting a culture of ethics and civic trust in City Hall

single-meta-cal January 4, 2017

It’s back to class for Administrators, Department Heads and Council Members to learn the latest ethics laws

As City of Huntsville employees gathered in council chambers in late December and were issued thick loose-leaf binders of information, Trey Riley, Huntsville’s City Attorney, reached for the old Benjamin Franklin axiom to explain the proceedings.

“What’s that saying? ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” Riley said.

That’s the basis for the training sessions held regarding ever-changing ethics laws that are a foundation for strong, transparent leadership.

“We want to meet our obligation to the taxpayers and the world with our ethics,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “I feel very good about where we are as a community. If you look at us, we do a very good job monitoring and policing ourselves in every area of the ethics laws. But it’s something with which you have to be constant and ever-vigilant.”

“Learning like this helps you to spot issues. We don’t want to be part of bad news.”

The ethics seminars, conducted by attorney Steve Shaw of Redden, Mills, Clark & Shaw in Birmingham, encouraged the public servants to be their own first line of defense, their own watchdogs.

“What the Mayor wanted to do was take a proactive approach,” Riley said. “Our goal is to educate the employee base and the leadership, and those who are making decision that might involve ethical concerns. The idea is being to avoid making mistakes.”

“Learning like this,” Shaw told his audience, “helps you to spot issues. We don’t want to be part of bad news.”

That’s the prevention part of all this.

In Shaw’s two 1 ½-hour sessions, he related several instances where ethics had been compromised elsewhere, reviewed changes in law and offered a list of do’s and don’ts.

“I don’t want you to be paranoid,” he said, “but just think about it. Use common sense.”

It should come as no surprise that a number of ethical quandaries in this state have been connected with Alabama and Auburn football tickets, as Shaw told the groups.

The Alabama State Ethics Commission can make formal rulings on questions of ethics and offer guidelines, and Riley said that employees “frequently” ask his counsel on issues that might have ethical considerations.

“It’s confusing,” Riley said, “and any time spent understanding ethical concerns in my book is time well spent. A wise investment.”

“It’s the only way you get confidence in government,” Battle said. “To me, one of the most important things is to have the people be confident in how their government spends their money and operates in an ethical and wise way. We work on that on a day-to-day basis.”