Does the city council need a code of conduct?

July 29, 2018


Rochester City Council members on Monday will discuss a set of potential guidelines for how they interact with the public, city staff and each other.

A draft code of conduct has been prepared by Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos and will be reviewed at 3:30 p.m. Monday in room 104 of City Hall, during the council’s weekly committee of the whole meeting.

“That’s more or less going to be for them to determine whether they want me to pursue it further,” Loos told the city’s Ethical Practices Board on Tuesday.

At the time, he said the draft wasn’t complete and he had received mixed responses to options after talking to some council members. A copy, which includes additional procedural rules, was posted with the council’s agenda on Thursday.

Ethics board members have shown tentative support during recent meetings for developing a code of conduct, which would address actions beyond the current ethics code.

On Tuesday, two residents cited concerns about creating a policy that is too restrictive.

Former Olmsted County Attorney Ray Schmitz, who also is a former member of the Ethical Practices Board, said the ethics code was designed to focus oversight to potential conflicts of interest.

“I think they were pretty careful to limit it to financial issues that you are now involved in,” he said during the ethic board’s public comment period.

Recent ethics complaints have stemmed from potential conflicts of interest based on alleged financial concerns, as well as public officials allegedly using their positions for personal or other gain.

Resident Barry Skolnick also raised concerns about potential vague language in the potential code, citing a code template from the League of Minnesota Cities, which includes the words “offensive,” “disrespectful” and “unprofessional.”

He said such words could be interpreted in different ways and create conflicts when enforcing a potential code.

“I think anything you do in terms of a code of conduct, if you find it’s absolutely essential to do it, should be something that is clearly open and clear to everyone,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to get yourselves into all kinds of problems.”

The draft released Thursday contains chapters on council roles and responsibilities, internal council conduct, conduct with city staff and actions when engaging the public.

Loos said the copy will serve as a starting point for council discussion, noting council members could decide a code is not needed, or they could define what they want in the code.

“I’m going to provide these options and see which way they want me to go,” he said.

If the council decides to go forward with discussing a code, Loos said the Ethical Practices Board could be tapped to provide input.

With that in mind, the board opted to wait for council direction before deciding whether to officially support the creation of an expanded code of conduct.

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