The city should make an official statement about the need for ethical behavior by members of its boards and commissions but should stop short of making its ethics code into law, city commissioners decided Tuesday.
Commissioners directed city staff to "bring back in English" an ethics code in resolution form.
The form that the code finally takes ordinance, resolution or statement is significant because it could determine whether commissioners have the power to remove people from their positions for ethical violations.
The code, which would apply to city employees, commissioners and board members, has been written and rewritten several times since it first was proposed in 1989.
Commissioners agreed Tuesday that the code should be a simple statement of the city's policy against people using their positions in city organizations for personal gain.
But commissioners struggled with the question of whether an ethics code should be passed as an ordinance, which would give them the power to remove code violators from their positions.
"MY PHILOSOPHY toward this was that this was a guidance," said Commissioner Bob Walters. He recommended passing the code in some "non-ordinance" form and trying it for a year.
"Then, if it were felt that it needed to move toward an ordinance form, that might be appropriate," he said.
David Corliss, city management analyst, told commissioners the League of Kansas Municipalities, while promoting ethics codes in general, did not recommend what form they should take. Cities and counties in Kansas have passed them in all forms.
The key to deciding which form the code should take, he said, was whether the city wanted the option of using sanctions or penalties.
Commissioner Mike Rundle asked how the code would stop violations if there were no punitive measures for violators.
CORLISS SAID that by merely making people covered by the code aware of it, ethical conduct would be more likely and that checks could be provided by other city employees, commissioners and board members.
"Keep in mind that under all these scenarios, the city commission is the final check," he said.
Commissioner Bob Schumm, who has backed giving the code punitive measures, said it should at least take the form of a resolution "so that it would be an official statement."
Rundle said he supported an ordinance because while "we don't have a cause for concern based on past history, I don't think it's a good idea to rely on that."
He pointed to recent scandals in federal housing programs and the savings and loan crisis as examples of pervasive corruption in government.
"I don't think those things can't happen in Lawrence," he said.
MAYOR SHIRLEY Martin-Smith said, "If we want people to serve on our boards and commissions, we have to trust them. I think we can help by giving them some guidelines."
She said she would oppose an ordinance.
Commissioner David Penny said he also leaned toward putting the code in a form other than an ordinance after reviewing the comments of various city organizations on the code.
"People just simply aren't going to serve under those conditions," he said of the possibility of punitive measures. "They've got enough problems without worrying about that."
Commissioners generally agreed that the city could at least publicly ask violators to resign their posts.
Corliss said commissioners also could consider including a statement in the city code separate from the ethics code that would give commissioners power to remove people for cause.
COMMISSIONERS asked for the code to be returned to them in a form that might be used in a brochure for distribution to new employees, commissioners and board members.
Rundle recommended including examples of various behaviors that could put people in violation of the code.