In order to rebuild confidence in local government, Mayor Shirley Franklin appointed an Ethics Task Force charged with recommending changes in the city’s ethics ordinances. The task force considered three policy alternatives. The first option was, of course, to do nothing. The second option was modest, incremental changes in the city’s ethics policy.
Finally, the third option was substantial changes in ethics policy. After receiving the Ethics Task Force’s report, Mayor Franklin in February 2002, she described the proposals as “sweeping reforms that will usher in a new ‘culture of ethics’ in city government.”
Many of the seven newly elected members of the city council shared Mayor Franklin’s desire for a stronger ethics policy for Atlanta’s government. Several veteran members of the council opposed the proposal, suggesting it would allow political enemies to file damaging but frivolous complaints.
The final ordinance passed by the council in April 2002 firmly established the independence of the city’s new seven member ethics board, which was given the authority to hire the city’s first ethics officer. Local bar associations and other citizens’ groups, not the mayor or city council, make appointments to the ethics board.
The City of Atlanta made considerable progress during the eight years in changing the climate of corruption that characterized local government during the Campbell administration. The ethics office educates city employees on the responsibilities of ethical conduct in regard to gifts and the required filing of annual financial disclosure forms. The ethics officer provides guidance on appropriate standards of conduct to all employees in private conversations and on publicly posted advisory opinions.
Any citizen or city employee can report possible violations through the ethics hotline or other means of contact with the ethics office. These reports trigger investigations and, if violations are found, the ethics board can issue reprimands or impose fines. All actions taken by the ethics board and office become matters of public record.
-excerpts from Atlanta Case Study Project: Ethics – 2010
by Harvey K. Newman, Professor and Chair, and Tim N. ToddDepartment of Public Management and Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies