Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Does Tredyffrin Township Need an Ethics Board?

Does Tredyffrin Township need an Ethics Board? Our neighbor, Radnor Township has an Ethics Board which meets on a ‘as needed’ basis. According to Radnor’s website, their Ethics Board . . .hears and investigates any complaints of alleged ethics violations and may render confidential advisory opinions. Their Ethics Board consists of four members, serving five-year terms plus the President of the Board of Commissioners. If we use Radnor’s model, Bob Lamina as chair of the Board of Supervisors would serve on the Board.

Although an Ethics Board presents an interesting tool for local government and the community, is it really necessary or would it help guide the leadership? Interesting question but does our local government need an ethics code? I just don’t know if a ‘ethics code’ would actually make a difference. What is needed are leaders who know conflict of interest when they see one and who avoid it scrupulously. Appearances and public perception play an enormously important role in the effectiveness of our elected officials and the well-being of the community. The point of ethical behaviour from our local leaders is to improve both the perception and the reality of integrity in our local government and to encourage, not discourage, citizens from participating in the government.

Ethics is all about making choices. Here is an interesting statement from the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors, ” . . . As one political expert likes to put it, we’ve entered a “moment in ethical time.” Ever since Watergate, the public has been increasingly insistent that public officials, from senators to township supervisors, walk the straight and narrow. It’s a demand that fueled the passage of ethics laws in many states, including Pennsylvania, where one thing is clear: If you are going to play in the political arena, you better behave. And it’s a mandate that begs the question: How ethical are you?”

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  1. Pattye, I’m sure that you intended this as a serious post but really — Bob Lamina sitting on a ethics board, you have to be kidding! If a person does not understand the basics of wrong vs right, an ethics board is not going to help.

  2. I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Many other Townships have adopted a Code of Ethics. At the very least, it would let Twp officials and employees know what we, their electors/employers, expect of them. Last year, I posted the following example on my blog — sorry, it’s kind of long…

    Elected and appointed officials and employees of Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania bear responsibility for the maintenance of true representative government. All officials and all employees must recognize and acknowledge that the people they serve demand more of a public official or public employee. All officials and employees of the Township must conduct their public lives according to the highest ethical standards.

    All elected and appointed officials and all employees of Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, shall:

    1. To the best of their ability, learn the laws governing the conduct of officials and employees of the municipalities of Pennsylvania, and observe both their letter and spirit.

    2 . Perform the functions of their office or employment to the best of their abilities.

    3 . Give first and maximum concern to the advancement of the public interest

    4. Abide by policies duly established by the Board of Supervisors and adhere to the standard rules and procedures relating to the performance of Tredyffrin Township governmental functions.

    5. Place competence and effectiveness of public service before the interest of any persons, factions or parties.

    6. Conduct themselves in keeping with the trust and dignity vested in their public service position and serve with justice and integrity.

    7. Deal honestly and fairly with all members of the public and with all other Tredyffrin Township officials and employees.

    8 . Attempt to increase their knowledge and understanding of municipal government and improve their competence in the performance of the functions necessary to the operation of that government.

    9. Respect the Township’s ownership of all Township equipment, supplies, books, records and information.

    10. Not use to their personal advantage, nor to the advantage of anyone else, confidential information to which they have access by virtue of their public office or position.

    11. Not make available to anyone any services, tangible or intangible, are not equally available under the law to others.

    12. Refuse personal gifts, favors, loans, services, payments and other enticements, made either directly to the official or employee or to a member of the official’s or employee’s family, where there is reason to believe such gifts, favors or enticements are offered to influence their official actions in favor of the donor. Any gift, favor loans, services, payments or other enticement with a value over $25.00 shall be presumed to be offered to influence their official actions in favor of the donor and shall be refused or returned. Only token gifts, such as pens, calendars, fruit baskets, and similar items may be accepted.

    13. Not convey to any person any information or advice not generally available to the public in any transaction, negotiation or litigation to which the Township is a party.

    14. Not use, or permit others to use, the power of public office or employment to solicit contributions from employees on behalf of any candidate for political office or any demand or infer that any Township employee should solicit contributions on behalf of any candidate for political office.

    15. Disclose any potential conflict in the discourse of legislative action which would serve to bring some special benefit by the particular vote/action being rendered. Township officials should conduct their official and personal affairs in such a manner as to give the clear impression that they cannot be improperly influenced in the performance of their official duties.

    I have read the policy adopted by the Board of Supervisors of the Township of Tredyffrin entitled “Code of Ethics”. I accept the Code of Ethics and agree to comply with the Code of Ethics. I also understand that it is my responsibility to disclose in writing a full description of any activity, interest, or relationship on my part that might create or appear to create a conflict of interest or otherwise violate the provisions of the Code of Ethics or applicable state law as soon as practical after the inception of the activity, interest or relationship.
    To the best of my knowledge and belief, I am not now engaged in any activity, interest or relationship that would create or appear to create a conflict of interest or violation of the Code of Ethics except as indicated below. I expressly agree to act in accordance with the Code of Ethics.

    Date: _________________ Signature: _______________________

    1. Christine, a CODE of ethics spelled out in a simiiar manner is a good idea. Kind of like the honor code in college. Some will take it seriously, as I did, others will flaunt it. Some of those pay a price.

      But a board of ethics is ridiculous.

    2. Mr. Peterson, I think the ice caps are really melting. It seems we agree on something.. about an ethics board not the answer. I think I now have fever.

  3. not withstanding mr lamina, you cannot legislate ethics. you have it or you dont. a board will just be another layer of government ripe for ethics lapses itself..

    too much.. the de facto ethics board is the voting public.

  4. Pattye, I took your question as a serious and timely one. Even if Mr. Lamina is ethically challenged, he and the Board should answer to a group of citizens who would be privy to all of the facts before making a recommendation.

    Should the BOS be required to consider the recommendations of an ethics board? No, but I believe it would influence their conduct as public officals charged with upholding the public trust.

    Right now we have a four-vote block that clings to the status quo. Partisan supporters and old boy networks matter more than the best interests of the community. Few are well served as a result.

    For the time being, in the absence of a healthy two-party system to keep things in check, I believe an ethics board would be a welcome addition to our dedicated volunteer boards and commissions.

    I know residents would be quick to see through a sham if Mr. Lamina assembled a group of cronies and yes-men/women to give the appearance of an independent board..

    How can the supervisors say NO to such a board without looking as if they have something to hide?

  5. totally disagree. Break the block at the voting booth. The cynical side in me thinks that if the board were loaded with all Mark Defilciantonios, this conversation would not be happening on this blog. Just another addition to the nanny state. Enough. Get a good candidate and run him with the wind.

    Maybe these guys are ethically challenged. When is the next election???

  6. I would prefer that the solicitor of the township represent the people of the township, not just the supervisors and be open and clear when the supervisors are not being ethical, legal or within their scope.

    1. It is an interesting relationship between the township solicitor, the BOS and the taxpayers. As taxpayers we pay for the solicitor but his/her responsibility (as the solicitor) always seems to be first and foremost to the supervisors, rather than the citizens. In other neighboring township meetings, it seems that if a question arises that the supervisors or commissioners do not know the answer to, the solicitor will immediately respond to the citizens questions. In Tredyffrin, I get the sense that most of Tom Hogan’s information/advice/response for the supervisors is in private, rather than in public. Rather than representing the citizens, the reporting structure for the solicitor would appear to be directly to the supervisors. I like Mr. Hogan and think he does a good job under the circumstances. I’m just not sure whether he feels his hands are tied by the supervisors (and therefore keeps his advice to them private) or is it he is careful to go against any of the wishes of the supervisors (for fear of jeopardizing Lamb McErlane’s legal contract with Tredyffrin).

    2. the solicitor advises on legalisms. He is not a babysitter. If the BOS wants to hang themselves on ethical issues, it is not his place to advise. He can say. this is not illegal, but maybe unethical, but I would assume IF he did, it would be in private counsel

  7. Pattye, If we can agree that Tom Hogan is an honest professional then I would hate to think he would violate any of the tenants of good solicitorship. I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but I think his public answers are thoughtful. I think he does answer to us. Since I am a bit of an outsider, if he is a partner in that law firm, then maybe that is weird???? But cannot say “guilty” by reason of insinuation. Hope I made sense. Chet

  8. I would prefer that the solicitor of the township represent the people of the township, not just the supervisors and be open and clear when the supervisors are not being ethical, legal or within their scope.

  9. Chet, I respect your point that the solicitor would not have the say in ethical issues. That does reside on the plate of the supervisor.

    However, babysitter, no… but oversight for legality and scope on behalf of taxpayers, yes!

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