City of Aberdeen, MD
Harford County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[HISTORY: Adopted by the Mayor and Council of the City of Aberdeen 3-8-2010 by Ord. No. 10-O-04 (Ch. 4 of the 1990 Code). Amendments noted where applicable.]
GENERAL REFERENCES
Ethics — See Ch. 43.
The purpose of this Code of Conduct ("code") is to define the role of elected officials in the governance of the City. This code consists of policies and implementing rules intended to advance the City's goals of providing efficient and high-quality services to its residents and providing a safe and productive work environment for its employees.
Aberdeen is a duly incorporated Maryland municipality and has its executive function shared by the Mayor and by the City Manager. The City Manager is charged with implementing the policies set by the City Council and is charged with administering the day-to-day affairs of the City with the assistance of his/her staff. This code establishes rules that contribute to the success of this basic structure and to maintaining positive and effective working relationships between officials and employees.
A. 
This code addresses selective aspects of the governance of the City and supplements but does not supplant other laws and rules that prescribe the legal responsibilities of City elected officials ("officials"). Those include, among others, the State of Maryland Constitution, various provisions of the Code of Maryland Administrative Regulations, federal laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, and the provisions of the City's own City Charter. Elected officials should be familiar with these laws to assure that they exercise their responsibilities properly.
B. 
It is not possible for a code of this kind to anticipate and provide a rule of conduct for all situations. It is expected that officials will manage their behavior in a manner consistent with the rules that follow, respect the chain of command and behave within the bounds of their authority. It is also expected that officials will treat each other, City employees, residents and businesspeople with courtesy and respect in a manner that reflects well on the City.
Policies governing the conduct of officials are listed in this section. Following each policy is a set of rules that give specific application to the policy. In italics following each rule is an explanation of the rule and guidance for interpreting and applying the rule.
A. 
Policy A. Officials shall deal with the administrative service solely through the Mayor and/or City Manager. Rules:
(1) 
Officials shall not direct, order or make demands on any City employee, other than inquiries that can be answered routinely and without research. This subsection shall not apply to the Mayor.
City staff are organized in a hierarchical structure, and City employees work under the direction and control of several layers of management culminating with the City Manager. Individual officials are not part of that management structure and have no authority to direct employees. When an official attempts to give an employee direction, the employee is put in an awkward position and the management structure is undermined. In some cases such actions have the potential for liability. Officials are not authorized directly to give work assignments to employees, including department heads. Employees are instructed not to take directions or work assignments from officials and to report any such attempts to their department head. An official may ask a routine question of staff; beyond that, concerns about work assignment should be addressed to the Mayor and/or the City Manager.
(2) 
Officials shall not attempt to reorganize an employee's priorities or influence the manner by which City staff performs their assigned functions or duties. This subsection shall not apply to the Mayor
City employees are directed in their everyday tasks by their immediate supervisor in accordance with approved work plans. Interference with an employee's work routine, priorities or decisionmaking processes by an official creates confusion and stress and places the employee in the difficult position of either disregarding his or her assigned work or appearing to disrespect the official's wishes. All requests for work or research should be directed to the City Manager. From time to time an official may believe that a problem must be looked into immediately and is tempted to direct an employee to drop everything and focus on that problem. Officials must, however, communicate their concern to the Mayor and/or the City Manager.
(3) 
Officials shall not retaliate or threaten to retaliate against employees as a result of disagreements over policy recommendations.
It is critical to the success of the City that its employees enjoy a workplace free of the fear of retaliation. The City takes great pride in its creativity and its receptivity to new and different ideas; an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere fosters creativity where candor is not penalized. City employees are hired to offer their professional judgments and opinions. Officials are certainly free to disagree with those judgments; indeed, those officials ultimately may have the final word. But those disagreements must not extend to threats or generate fear of reprisal. Officials enjoy substantial influence within City Hall; this authority must not be exercised in a manner that intimidates staff and degrades morale with resulting damage to the fabric of the organization.
(4) 
Officials shall not threaten a City employee with disciplinary action.
If an official is concerned about the performance of a City employee, that concern should be expressed privately to the City Manager. Such criticisms can then be addressed in accordance with the City's personnel rules, in a manner that protects the employee's rights and protects the City's authority properly to discipline its employees. It is never acceptable for an official directly to threaten disciplinary action of any kind, and rarely, if ever, is it appropriate to criticize publicly an employee. Officials should certainly have high expectations of employees' work performance; but there is no room in the City organization for public humiliation of any person.
B. 
Policy B. Officials shall act collectively in a properly noticed and constituted meeting; officials have no authority to make decisions or take actions on behalf of the body unless expressly authorized to do so. Rules:
(1) 
Officials shall not make representations or promises to any third party regarding the future actions of the City or of the body of which they are a member, unless the appropriate body has duly authorized such representation or promise. This subsection shall not apply to the Mayor.
When officials engage in conversations with residents, applicants, developers, lobbyists and officials of other governmental agencies, they should be cautious not to make representations or promises that they cannot legally make or keep. Future actions of a legislative body cannot be promised or predicted with certainty. Individual officials do not have authority to make commitments on behalf of the City unless expressly authorized to do so by the body of which they are a member.
(2) 
When making public utterances, officials shall make it clear whether they are authorized to speak on behalf of the body of which they are a member or whether they are presenting their own views. This subsection shall not apply to the Mayor.
Officials occasionally speak before other public bodies, neighborhood groups or to the press. When doing so, they should always make it clear whether they are presenting their own point of view or whether they have been authorized by the body of which they are a member to present a particular view. They should be clear in all oral and written utterances whether they are using their title for identification purposes or because they are speaking in an official capacity.
(3) 
Officials shall not interfere with the manner by which the City Manager performs his or her duties. It is recognized that the Mayor directly supervises the City Manager.
The City Manager cannot function effectively if he or she receives inconsistent direction from individual Council members or is not given the support and independence necessary to administer the City. Questions and/or concerns regarding the priorities of the City government shall be brought to the attention of the Mayor.
(4) 
Officials shall not interfere with the implementation by City staff of approved projects and programs.
The City Manager is charged with the implementation of approved projects or programs. City Council members must avoid interfering with or directing the Manager's method of carrying out the City Council's decisions, even if the project or program was conceived and initiated by an individual Council member. Once a project or program receives Council approval, it is an official activity of the City, not of any individual Council member. Officials do not have authority and should refrain from giving directions or instructions to City contractors or consultants working on City projects or programs.
C. 
Policy C. City resources shall be used solely for proper governmental purposes and only with proper authorization. Rules:
(1) 
City letterhead may be used by officials for official City business.
City letterhead must be used with care to avoid misunderstandings. Letterhead may be used to communicate official City policy or actions. It is also routinely used by officials to respond to inquiries or communicate their individual opinions, in which event the author should be clear about whose view is being presented. City letterhead may be used by other City officials (board and commission members) only for transaction of official City business.
(2) 
City employees shall not be asked or directed to spend time on non-City business.
It is improper to ask or require a City employee to engage in non-City-related activities. Non-City activities include, among other things, election campaign related activities and personal errands. Further, City employees should not be solicited to engage in political activity on behalf of a City official.
(3) 
Officials shall not use or disclose information obtained through City service for improper or illegal purposes.
Officials often acquire information in performing their duties that is not generally available to the public, including information received in closed sessions. Sometimes this information is confidential or highly sensitive. Information that is not generally available to the public must remain confidential and be used only for the purposes for which it was divulged. In particular, this information can never be used for personal gain.
D. 
Policy D. When representing the City, officials shall conduct themselves in a dignified manner and in accordance with all legal requirements. Rules:
(1) 
When representing the City on official business, officials shall behave responsibly and in a manner as to project a positive image for the City.
Whenever an official is representing the City, in or out of town, the official is "on duty" and should behave in a manner that will reflect well on the City. When out of town or at social events there is a temptation to behave more informally than one might in City Hall, which can lead to awkward or embarrassing situations and in extreme cases to improper or illegal behavior. When at government, civic or political functions, officials should avoid drinking alcohol to excess.
(2) 
Officials shall exercise best efforts to avoid the appearance of impropriety in the performance of their official duties.
The public's confidence in the integrity and fairness of City government often hinges on the behavior of the officials. Real or perceived ethical lapses by the officials undermine the effectiveness of the City and cast a shadow on the decisions of its legislative bodies. Often, ethical considerations extend beyond the legal requirements of conflict of interest law.
(3) 
Decorum. While the Council is in session, the members must preserve order and decorum, and a member shall neither, by conversation or otherwise, delay or interrupt the proceedings or the peace of the Council nor disturb any member while speaking or refuse to obey the orders of the Council or its presiding officer.
A. 
The City is committed to maintaining a healthy, fulfilling and humane workplace. To that end, every official is expected to observe the foregoing policies and rules when engaged in City business.
B. 
Complaints alleging a violation of this Code of Conduct by an official shall be forwarded to the Chairperson of the City's Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission shall commence an investigation of the complaint. Upon the completion of the investigation, the Ethics Commission shall forward its findings of fact to the entire Council. The Council will act upon the findings of facts submitted to it by the Ethics Commission by motion and vote and shall prescribe any sanction that it feels applicable to the complaint. Only members not complained against may vote, and it shall only take a majority vote of the members not complained against to pass the recommendations.[1]
[1]
Editor's Note: Amended 8-23-2010 by ORd. No. 10-O-12.
C. 
The goal of enforcement of this Code of Conduct is corrective, rather than penal, and a progressive approach to curing violations shall be employed when possible, beginning with less severe methods and proceeding to more severe methods as necessary.
(1) 
The Mayor and City Council may in a public meeting impose one or more of the following sanctions in this order:
(a) 
Reprimand.
(b) 
Censure.
(c) 
Loss of City reimbursement of conference, meeting and operating costs.
(2) 
The Mayor and City Council are not bound, however, to follow the progression of sanctions if they feel that the offense rises to the level where a more severe sanction should be administered.
D. 
The accused official(s) shall be given every opportunity to mount a public defense of the accusations against him or her (them). The accused official(s) shall have the right to request a public hearing on the accusation(s) against him or her (them). The official shall be able to defend himself or herself at the public hearing on the accusation before any vote on sanction is taken by the City Council.