For newly elected public officials, the need to be educated on a code of ethics is crucial to their success as a trusted individual serving in government. But for some officials who’ve spent years in the public eye, there may be a need to refresh their memory on how to operate fairly, justly, and with the confidence of those who elected them.
Whether it’s Social media use or keeping the public’s trust in mind with their every action as an elected government member, public officials are subject to a range of ethics and conduct rules that can have a major impact on how their time in office will go.
Here’s a rundown of some surefire ethics rules that public officials need to be sure to abide by in order to gain and keep the trust of their constituents and ensure honest service moving forward.
A major mistake made by public officials if not paying enough attention to their statement of interests, such as income and investments. This step informs the public about their overall financial interests so they can ensure that they are not taking actions that would end up benefiting their own pocketbook. Public officials should avoid common mistakes by carefully considering all relevant areas of disclosure, such as gifts, investments, business operations, and regular pay.
Most public officials are aware that they cannot vote on items in which they have a material financial interest. Generally public officials cannot have a conflict from a campaign contribution if they are appointed to another board. Another source of conflict can also be a place of residence even though public officials don’t have to disclose it.
Campaign funds are a public trust and should not be used for personal gain. Most public official candidates who win office spend time garnering donors who contribute to their campaigns because this helps their campaign. Because donations are given to individuals, there is a temptation to use these funds in a personal way, such as dinners, bills, or travel. However, there are strict rules prohibiting the use of campaign funds for personal use.
Even an unfound allegation can lead to the loss of public trust and cause a public official to drop out of a race or resign from office, not to mention put them up against legal matters. This is where acting in good faith comes into play as well as coverage for public officials. This kind of insurance can help provide the resources needed to keep time away from office in court and litigation limited.
At some point, everyone will end their career in public service. Many who will continue to work following their service will go into the private sector. Sometimes, they may go to work for a company that did business with the agency where they served. It’s important for public officials to separate out their duties as a public official and their negotiations for a new job. Once they start negotiating terms of a job, such as salary and benefits, they must recuse themselves from participating or influencing any decision being made.
Public service can be a rewarding choice for those who want to serve their community and make positive changes. But serving in the public sphere can also present a number of opportunities to fall to temptation. Making sure public officials are aware of the potential fallout from an ethics scandal can keep them from making costly mistakes.
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