Sunday, April 30, 2017

Eureka Council Code Outlines How to do Unto Others, Each Other

Posted By on Sun, Apr 30, 2017 at 8:56 AM

click to enlarge The current Eureka City Council. - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF EUREKA
  • Courtesy of the city of Eureka
  • The current Eureka City Council.
Eureka councilmembers would be expected to use their words wisely — but not in support of a candidate running for council or in off-the-record conversations with journalists — under an ethics and conduct code under consideration at Tuesday’s meeting.

Adopted from the city of Sunnyvale, the 20-page document outlines how Eureka’s elected and appointed officials are expected to act with the public, the media, staff and each other — apparently the result of councilmembers raising the subject during a strategic visioning session.

The council has seen some fiery discussions erupt at the dais over the last year or so, especially when weighing such contentious items as homeless encampments and human rights resolutions.

Included in the packet is a “Checklist for Monitoring Conduct” — with self-reflecting questions like, “If I have to justify my conduct in public tomorrow, will I do so with pride or with shame?” — as well as a glossary of terms with words ranging from "manners" (suitable; proper; good taste in behavior) to "sanction" (a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule).

Two sections appear to clash on the subject of campaign endorsements and support.

A paragraph on page 5 says it’s OK: “Councilmembers and board and commission members have the right to endorse candidates for all Council seats or other elected offices so long as such endorsements are not in a public form in their official capacity as a Councilmember. It is inappropriate to mention or display endorsements during Council meetings, board/commission meetings, or other official City meetings.”

But the “Keep political support away from public forum” section on page 13 indicts otherwise: “Board and commission members may offer political support to a Councilmember, but not in a public forum while conducting official duties. Conversely, Councilmembers may support board and commission members who are running for office, other than for City Council, but not in an official forum in their capacity as a Councilmember.”

(Note: The wording “other than for City Council” does not appear in the Sunnyvale version.)

Here are some of other the highlights:
1). Taking offense: “If a member is personally offended by the remarks of another member, the offended member should make notes of the actual words used and call for a "point of personal privilege" that challenges the other member to justify or apologize for the language used. The chair will maintain control of this discussion.”

2). Conduct 24/7: “Remember that Eureka is a small town: Members are constantly being observed by the community every day that they serve in office. Their behaviors and comments serve as models for proper deportment in the City of Eureka. Honesty and respect for the dignity of each individual should be reflected in every word and action taken by members, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a serious and continuous responsibility.”

3). Keeping up appearances: “Give the appearance of active listening: It is disconcerting to speakers to have members not look at them when they are speaking. It is fine to look down at documents or to make notes, but reading for a long period of time or gazing around the room gives the appearance of disinterest. Be aware of facial expressions, especially those that could be interpreted as ‘smirking,’ disbelief, anger or boredom.”

4). Conduct with the media: “Choose words carefully and cautiously: Comments taken out of context can cause problems. Be especially cautious about humor, sardonic asides, sarcasm, or word play. It is never appropriate to use personal slurs or swear words when talking with the media.” (The code also warns board members to never (underlined for emphasis) go off the record when talking with a reporter.)

5). Sanctions: “Councilmembers should point out to the offending Councilmember infractions of the Code of Ethics and Conduct. If the offenses continue, then the matter should be referred to the Mayor in private. If the Mayor is the individual whose actions are being challenged, then the matter should be referred to the Council. It is the responsibility of the Mayor to initiate action if a Councilmember’s behavior may warrant sanction. If no action is taken by the Mayor, the alleged violation(s) can be brought up with the full Council in a public meeting.”

To read the draft Code of Ethics and Conduct go here.
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Kimberly Wear

Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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