‘Out of Bounds’ and Unethical Behavior

By Bill Powers

   Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the concept we call “out of bounds”. It is a term we often connect with sports, when operating within the predetermined field of play. Being out of bounds can refer to something that is forbidden, off-limits, barred, illegal, prohibited, or banned. In a close game of football, when the wide receiver inadvertently steps out of bounds just short of the goal line as time has just expired, it can be a tragic event. The team has lost on the very last play. There are times in government when employees, or elected and appointed officials step out of bounds.

  Designed to provide guidance for those serving in government about right and wrong behaviors, ethics codes are established, and rules of conduct are officially recognized. Some examples of ethical issues in government are: corruption, use of authority for private gain; the withholding of information from the public; the disclosure of confidential information; and, nepotism. Regardless of the level of government: federal, state or local, a code of ethics set in law is important so that the public’s trust can be maintained.  Mechanisms for enforcement will help to assure ethical conduct, transparency and accountability if government employees, and elected or appointed officials are found to be ethically out of bounds.

   In my town the “CODE OF ETHICS” is in the form of an “ORDINANCE”. It’s “goal is to establish clear standards of ethical conduct for all those who serve the Town of Windham, whether in a paid or unpaid capacity, without discouraging participation in Town government by talented and committed individuals on whose service the town relies.”  The ordinance consists of the following sections: “A) Preamble; B) Standards of Conduct (including definitions); C) Organization and Administration; D) Procedure for Advisory Opinions; E) Whistle Blower Protection; F) Procedure for Complaints; and, G) Determinations (following the hearing).”

   Our Ethics Commission believes that the education of the public as well as for town employees and officials about ethical behavior is crucial to its role. By Ordinance, there are five commissioners. At this time, we have an opening for someone who is interested in serving as an appointed volunteer member. If you are Windham resident, who is interested in and dedicated to assuring ethical conduct, transparency, and accountability, while helping to preserve the public trust in our local government, please contact the Windham Town Manager’s office for an application. However, if you are a registered Democrat, you need NOT apply at this time. It’s not that we dislike Democrats; the Code of Ethics specifies that “No more than three shall be registered in the same political party” and we already have three. You also may NOT be a town employee or serve concurrently on another town board.  

Bill Powers is the chairman for the Town of Windham Ethics Commission

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