Sunday, September 17, 2017

Raising the Ethical Bar

Like many of you I have been concerned by the recent allegations made about the ethical conduct of a few Rocky Mount City Council members. Conflict of interest, especially within government or non-profits, has been in the news a lot lately. Every business, non-profit board, or community agency I have ever had the privilege to serve required the signing of a "conflict of interest policy" document. Recently I discovered that the Rocky Mount City Council members are not currently required to sign a binding conflict of interest document. A conflict of interest policy, rather than being a burden, is a great asset. It provides transparency for the leaders, helps identify conflicting motives for their actions, and increases trust of those who are served.

Transparency of processes is essential for democratic government to work. A recent Fast Company (link below) article revealed that people are drawn to places where transparency is practiced. Transparency allows for open and honest communication which increases morale. Transparency removes the suspicion that there is always something going on outside of the official meetings and processes where some one is striving to game the system. It allows for open, respectful, and thoughtful discussion. Transparency, essentially, creates a healthier community. I believe that is what we all want from our city and its leaders.

A wise man once said, "A man cannot serve two masters, he will love the one and hate the other." A clear and binding conflict of interest policy allows for decision makers to make it clear about their motives. It should be known during ever vote if anyone on the city council, their family, or any organization they represent will benefit directly or indirectly. It would then be appropriate for that councilperson to recuse themselves from all debate, discussion, and any voting about the item or issue. In the event that it is later discovered a conflict has occurred, appropriate action outlined in the agreement can be taken.

The primary reason a conflict of interest policy is essential is that it increases trust. After reading countless minutes and notes from city council meetings it seems that there is an undercurrent of mistrust. The first step in raising the ethical bar is to improve trust. The first step in improving trust is by inviting every council member to sign a clear, binding conflict of interest statement (similar to the one used by The Gates Foundation below).

Rocky Mount has incredible potential for growth and progress. After years of stagnation momentum and change are starting. All of this can be undone unless there is transparency and trust. It is time to raise the ethical bar for our leaders and require they sign a conflict of interest policy document as a first step.

Serving in government at any level is a privilege, not a right. Serving requires selfless dedication to the community and should never be used as a platform for personal gain.

Remember you do what you can do. I will do what I can do. Together we can change the world.

Live Passionately,

Sample Conflict of Interest Policy from The Gates Foundation
Fast Company Article on Transparency

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