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(A) General principles underlying the Code of Ethics.
(1) Purpose. The purpose of this Code of Ethics is to establish guidelines for ethical standards of conduct for members of the Town Council, including the Mayor and members of the town's various volunteer boards, committees and task forces (hereinafter, "committees") and to provide guidance in determining what conduct is appropriate in particular cases. This Code should not be considered a substitute for the law or for a Council member's best judgment, and the provisions herein should be considered minimum standards and examples. Town Council and committee members shall strive to bring the perception and actual honesty to all endeavors related to town matters or which may reflect on the public perception of the town.
(2) Commitment to the Code of Ethics. No person elected or appointed to the Town Council or appointed to a committee of the town shall begin official duties until that person has certified that he or she has read this Code of Ethics. Each person so elected or appointed shall be provided by the Town Clerk with a copy of this Code of Ethics.
(3) Foundation of Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics is founded on the following ideas and they shall inform the interpretation of the Code of Ethics.
(a) The stability and proper operation of democratic representative government depends upon public confidence in the integrity of the government and upon responsible exercise of the trust conferred by the people upon their elected officials and the other persons they appoint to transact the government's business.
(b) Governmental decisions and policy must be made and implemented through proper channels, and fair and open processes of the governmental structure to the extent possible.
(c) Elected local government officials must be able to act in a manner that maintains their integrity and independence, yet is responsive to the interests and needs of those they represent, without fear of reprisal or condemnation.
(d) Elected local government officials must always remain aware that at various times they play different roles:
1. As advocates, who strive to advance the legitimate needs of the citizens;
2. As legislators, who balance the public interest and private rights in considering and enacting ordinances, orders and resolutions; and
3. As fair and impartial decision-makers, when making quasi-judicial and administrative determinations.
(e) Elected local government officials must know how to distinguish among these roles, to determine when each role is appropriate, and to act accordingly.
(f) Elected local government officials must be aware of their obligation to conform their behavior to standards of ethical conduct that warrant the trust of their constituents. Each official must ultimately find within his or her own conscience the touchstone by which to determine what conduct is appropriate.
(g) People serving on the various boards, committees and task forces (hereinafter referred to as "committee members") that often inform the legislative, administrative and decision-making processes must exercise their roles in a manner as to justify the trust placed upon them by their elected officials, and they must not use their positions for improper purposes.
(B) Code of Ethics.
(1) (a) Principle 1-1. Town Council and committee members should obey all laws, including state and federal laws and regulations, and local ordinances which apply to their official actions.
(b) Principle 1-2. Town Council and committee members should be guided by the spirit as well as the letter of the law in whatever they do.
(c) Principle 1-3. Town Council and committee members shall endeavor to keep themselves up to date about new or ongoing legal or ethical issues they may face in their official positions. They should avail themselves of resources and training in these areas which may be reasonably available to them. Town Council and committee members should review the pertinent sections in the town's code, Unified Development Ordinance and other sources concerning the procedures by which they perform their duties so that they will be knowledgeable and informed as they do so.
(a) Town Council and committee members must ask to be recused from voting on matters involving their own direct or indirect financial interests or official conduct and must not participate in the deliberations or votes regarding the matters. They must avoid attempting to influence others who are involved in approving, making or administering a contract with the town if they will derive a direct benefit from the contract.
(b) Town Council and committee members must avoid soliciting or receiving any gift or reward in exchange for recommending, influencing or attempting to influence the award of any contract by the town.
(c) Town Council members and committee members shall reject any gift or favor from a current, past or potential contractor of the town.
(d) Town Council members and committee members should not knowingly accept any gift unless it falls within one of the exceptions set forth below. A prohibited gift shall be promptly declined, returned, paid for at fair market value, or donated to charity or the city.
1. Exceptions. These prohibitions shall not apply to any of the following:
a. Gifts from the official’s extended family, or a member of the same household.
b. Anything generally made available or distributed to the general public without charge.
c. A memento such as a commemorative shovel, plaque, figurine, trinket, or novelty item related to a civic occasion or event.
d. Informational materials relevant to the duties of the official.
e. Food and beverages for immediate consumption in connection with any of the following gatherings, so long as the official pays the same amount, if any, that other attendees are charged for attending the gathering or for the food and drink:
i. A meeting of the Town Council (or committee).
ii. Business meetings.
iii. A gathering open to the general public.
f. Tickets or admittance to, and food and beverages for immediate consumption at, an event or meeting where the official is clearly representing the town and where the town has a legitimate purpose in being represented at the event. By way of illustration but not limitation, this would include community events sponsored by the town and events or meetings hosted by the Boone TDA, the Downtown Boone Development Association, local government agencies and authorities, Appalachian University and other educational institutions, and similar organizations.
2. For purposes of this division,“gift” means anything of monetary value given or received without fair market value given in return or, for loans or other contractual arrangements, on terms that are not available to the general public in the normal course of business. Gifts do not include the following:
a. Academic or athletic scholarships given based on the same criteria as applied to the general public.
b. Anything of value properly reported as required under G.S. Ch. 163, Art. 22A (North Carolina Campaign Contributions Law).
c. Expressions of condolence related to a death of an individual, including the giving of a sympathy card, letter, or note, flowers, food or beverages for immediate consumption, or donations to a religious organization, charity, the state or a political subdivision of the state, not to exceed a total of $200 per death per donor.
(e) Town Council and committee members shall avoid using knowledge of a contemplated action by the town, or information learned in their official capacities and not made public, to acquire a financial interest in any property, transaction or enterprise, or to otherwise gain a financial benefit that may be affected by the information or contemplated action, and they shall not help another person in doing so.
(f) Town Council and committee members shall not participate in or vote upon any quasi-judicial matter coming before them if prior to hearing the evidence of the case they have a fixed opinion that is not susceptible to change; they have had undisclosed ex parte communications regarding the substance of the matter involved; they have a close familial, business or other associational relationship with an affected person; or they have a financial interest in the outcome of the matter.
(g) Every Town Council member shall attend statutorily mandated ethics training.
(3) (a) Principle 2-1. Town Council and committee members should act with integrity and with independence from improper influence as they exercise the functions of their offices.
(b) Principle 2-2. Town Council and committee members should use their best independent judgment to pursue the common good as they see it, presenting their opinions to all in a reasonable, forthright and consistent manner.
(c) Principle 2-3. Town Council and committee members should not be subject to improper influence by family, friends, business associates or others who are motivated by self-interest rather than the common good, but they must be able to consider the opinions and ideas of others throughout the community as they formulate approaches to the issues with which they are presented.
(d) Principle 2-4. Town Council and committee members should strive to show respect toward other persons with whom they interact, including each other, recognizing that they may often be perceived as representing the town itself even when they are acting in a personal capacity.
(e) Principle 2-5. Town Council and committee members shall strive to not form a final opinion regarding an issue until all sides have been given a reasonable opportunity to present their viewpoints.
(f) Principle 2-6. In situations in which recusal from voting or participation is not allowed, but an objective observer may believe that a conflict of interest exists, Town Council members shall seek to explain their inability to seek recusal while striving to discharge their responsibilities to advance the common good.
(a) Town Council and committee members must be free to assert policy positions and opinions without fear of reprisal from fellow Town Council or committee members or citizens. So, to assert that a Town Council or committee member is behaving unethically based simply upon a disagreement with that Town Council or committee member related to a question of policy, as opposed to the Town Council or committee member's actual unethical behavior, is unfair, dishonest, irresponsible and itself unethical.
(b) Town Council and committee members who are involved in quasi-judicial procedures shall actively avoid inappropriate contacts with interested persons regarding the issues involved in those procedures, and when despite their best efforts they engage in the contacts, they shall disclose them and withdraw from participation in the procedures.
(5) (a) Principle 3-1. Town Council and committee members should avoid impropriety in the exercise of their official duties. Their official actions should be above reproach.
(b) Principle 3-2. Town Council and committee members should recognize that they are part of a larger group and should act accordingly. They should respect their office and not behave in ways that reflect badly on it. They should treat other Town Council and committee members and the public with respect, and should honor the opinions of others even when they disagree.
(c) Principle 3-3. If a Town Council or committee member concludes that his or her actions which the Town Council or committee member believes are legal and ethical may be misunderstood, he or she should seek the advice of the Town Attorney as to whether the actions are legal and ethical. Alternatively, he or she may state on the record the facts of the situation and the steps taken to resolve it.
(a) A Town Council or committee member should never make a request to a town employee, including the Town Manager, for an action, forbearance or other thing of value which would benefit himself or herself or any other person or entity, whether or not the Town Council and committee member has a familial, business or other relationship with that person or entity, unless as an ordinary citizen of the town it would be appropriate to make a request. Even in instances where a request would ordinarily be appropriate, a Town Council or committee member making a request must disclose to the employee that he or she is not entitled to preferential treatment, that the request should be rejected if it would not customarily be granted to an ordinary citizen of the town, and that the employee may refuse the request without fear of reprisal.
(b) Town Council and committee members shall not attempt to influence a decision by the Town Council or the committee on which they serve relative to any action from which they will derive a direct financial benefit, although they shall not be precluded from appearing in an individual capacity to testify in quasi-judicial zoning procedures which have a substantial impact upon their own property interests so long as those interests are disclosed.
(c) Town Council and committee members shall not solicit or accept any gift or other thing of value which might be perceived as affecting any vote or decision involving the donor, but the receipt of an honorarium for participating in a meeting, the receipt of an advertising item or souvenir of nominal value or a meal furnished at a banquet will not be considered a violation of this principle so long as it does not actually influence the Town Council or committee member in the discharge of his or her official duties. In the event a Town Council or committee member has inadvertently accepted a gift or other thing of value from a person seeking action by the town, the Town Council member or committee member may not attempt to influence the decision or participate in any vote relating to the decision.
(d) Town Council and committee members must recognize that unless specifically charged with representing the town, Council or committee, they are not authorized to act on behalf of the town, Council or committee, and they should not offer their opinions, positions or analysis as representing the views of the town, Council or committee unless the Council or committee has itself taken official action as a body in conformity with those opinions, positions or analysis.
(e) Town Council members and committee members shall not demand information from other Town Council members or committee members to which they are not legally entitled by threatening to take formal legal action or by making a public records request against the other if the recipient of the request refuses to provide the requested information.
(7) (a) Principle 4-1. Town Council and committee members should be faithful in the performance of the duties of their offices.
(b) Principle 4-2. Town Council and committee members should be diligent in their attendance at meetings and in their preparation for those meetings. They should carefully analyze all credible information that is provided to them and recognize the importance to the well being of the town and its citizens of many of their decisions.
(c) Principle 4-3. Town Council members shall seek full accountability from those over whom the Town Council has authority, particularly with regard to the expenditure of public funds.
(d) Principle 4-4. Town Council members should set a good example for others in the community, keeping in mind that trust and respect must continually be earned.
(e) Principle 4-5. Town Council and committee members should be willing to bear their fair share of the workload, commensurate with their skills and other commitments.
(f) Principle 4-6. Town Council members in particular should strive to recognize that by accepting the public trust, they may have to subordinate their personal endeavors to discharge their official responsibilities. To the extent appropriate, they should be willing to put the town's interests ahead of their own.
(a) Town Council and committee members should keep confidential information entrusted to them in legally called and held closed sessions, the disclosure of which has or may have a negative impact on the interests of the town itself, and they shall keep private confidentially obtained information about other members which would embarrass those members or expose them to public ridicule, but which has no bearing on the performance of any official duty.
(b) Unless such service has been authorized by action of a super majority of the Town Council, four-fifths of the members in attendance, upon a finding that individual service is in the interests of the town as a whole and that an exception should therefore be made, members of the Town Council shall not serve on the boards of directors of organizations that have contracts with the town, or that seek funding or similar support from the town.
(9) (a) Principle 5-1. Town Council and committee members shall conduct the affairs of their boards in an open and public manner.
(b) Principle 5-2. Town Council and committee members should remember when meeting that they are conducting the public's business.
(c) Principle 5-3. Town Council and committee members should remember that except for those records otherwise protected by law against public disclosure, the records of the town belong to the public and not to them or the town's employees. They should make clear that a climate of openness is to be maintained at all times in the town.
(d) Principle 5-4. In order to ensure strict compliance with the laws governing openness, Town Council members should prohibit unjustified delays in fulfilling public records requests should they become aware of the delays. They should assure themselves before they go into closed session that the closed session is called for a lawful purpose.
(10) Mandates: Town Council and committee members must comply with all applicable laws governing open meetings and public records.
(C) Censure procedures.
(1) If the Town Council has reason to believe that one of its members or a member of a town committee has violated a mandate of this Code of Ethics, by majority vote of the Town Council members present and voting, it may open an investigation into the matter, using the resources of the town to compile the necessary information to make a determination. If the proceeding involves a Town Council member's actions, that member shall not participate in the vote to authorize the investigation.
(2) Following investigation, all information compiled, including any grounds for the finding of probable cause that a mandate has been violated shall be summarized in writing by the Town Manager, Town Attorney or other person as may be designated by the Town Council, and the written summary shall be shared with the accused Town Council or committee member promptly when it is available. All information pertaining to the case shall be open to public inspection and copying as pursuant to G.S. §§ 132-1 et seq.
(3) Following the investigation and report, should the Town Council determine, by vote of a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, that it wishes to proceed further with a censure proceeding, it shall call for and schedule a quasi-judicial hearing at a regular meeting or special meeting convened for that purpose. If the proceeding involves a Town Council member's actions, that member shall not participate in the vote to proceed or schedule the hearing.
(4) The notice of the hearing stating its time, place, and purpose shall be published at least two times, once each in two separate calendar weeks in a newspaper of general circulation, or it shall be advertised daily for at least ten days on the town's official website. If placed in the newspaper, the initial notice shall be published at least ten days and not more than 25 days before the date set for the hearing and shall state that the summary regarding the allegations against the Town Council or committee member is available for public inspection and copying in the office of the Town Clerk.
(5) The hearing shall be convened at the time and place specified. Any and all votes during the hearing and any deliberations that follow shall be taken by a vote of the full Town Council in attendance and participating, and each vote shall be recorded in the minutes. The hearing and any deliberations shall be conducted in open session in accordance with the requirements of the state's open meetings statutes, G.S. §§ 143-318.9 and 143-318.10.
(6) The accused Town Council or committee member shall have the right to challenge the participation in the case of any other Town Council member or the Presiding Officer, based on bias or self-interest. If a challenge is made, the Town Council shall immediately hear evidence and vote on the challenge in a separate hearing conducted for that purpose. It shall not be a basis for removal of a Town Council member that he or she was the person who offered the motion to investigate the behavior in question or to conduct the hearing. Neither the accused Town Council member, if any, nor the Town Council member whose participation is challenged, may vote on the challenge although both may offer evidence. The challenge shall be decided by a majority vote of those present and voting, a quorum being present not including the person accused and the person challenged. If more than one person's participation is challenged, however, a separate hearing shall be conducted as to each challenged member's participation and all members, except the accused member and challenged member shall participate in the vote as to the right of the challenged member to participate.
(7) The rules governing any hearing as to bias and the hearing on the underlying ethical charges shall be those that apply to a standard quasi-judicial hearing, and an audio or video recording of the proceedings shall be made. All hearings on this policy shall be conducted by the Town Attorney. During the hearing, the accused Town Council or committee member shall have the right:
(a) To have counsel present;
(b) To present and cross-examine expert and other witnesses; and
(c) To offer evidence.
(8) Any person in attendance at the hearing with knowledge of the alleged incident(s) giving rise to or materially related to the allegation shall be given an opportunity to testify, and all testimony shall be taken under oath.
(9) Once the hearing is concluded, it shall be closed by majority vote. The Presiding Officer shall then entertain a motion to adopt a non-binding resolution censuring the Town Council or committee member based on specified violations of the mandates of the Code of Ethics. Any motion made must be an affirmative one in favor of adopting a non-binding resolution of censure. If the motion or resolution does not state particular grounds for censure under the Code of Ethics, the Presiding Officer shall rule it out of order. If a motion to adopt a non-binding resolution of censure stating particular grounds under the Code of Ethics has been made, the Board shall debate the motion. The accused Town Council member, if any, and any other Town Council member who has been removed from participation because of bias or self-interest may remain present, but shall not be allowed to participate in the debate. At the conclusion of the debate, the Town Council shall vote, except for the accused Town Council member, if any, and any other Town Council member who has been removed from participation. If the motion is approved by a minimum two-thirds vote of those present and voting, a quorum being present, the motion will be approved and the non-binding resolution of censure adopted. The quorum requirement shall be met if the requisite number is present, even though removal of some from participation may prevent a quorum from actually voting on the issue.
(10) If a resolution of censure is adopted, it shall become a part of the official record of the Town Council. If it pertains to a member of a committee, it shall be the basis for further action, which may be taken immediately following the vote of censure, to remove the committee member from the committee upon which he or she serves.
(Ord. passed 11-16-2010; Res. passed 11-20-2014; Ord. passed - -; Ord. passed - -)