Government employees must follow mandated ethical code

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:15 PM

Steve Curtis

“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”

— MARK TWAIN,The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn

The governmental workforce of every Utah community must abide by the Municipal Officers and Employee Ethics Act (Utah Code 10-3-1301 et seq.). The stated purposes of this law are not only to establish standards of conduct for municipal officers and employees, but to also require disclosure of actual or potential conflicts of interest between public duties and personal interests. The Act does two things: First, it sets up a disclosure system for conflicts of interest; and second, it describes crimes specific to public service.

The ethics law makes it a crime to commit the following:

• Disclose or improperly use private, controlled or protected information acquired by reason of an official position or in the course of official duties in order to further the officer’s or employee’s personal economic interests or to secure special privileges or exemptions for the officer or employee or others. Private, controlled or protected information is information that has been classified as such under the Government Records Access and Management Act.

• Use or attempt to use an official position to further substantially the officer’s or employee’s personal economic interest or secure special privileges for themselves or others.

• Knowingly receive, accept, take, seek or solicit, directly or indirectly for themselves or another, a gift of substantial value or a substantial economic benefit tantamount to a gift that would tend to improperly influence a reasonable person in the person’s position to depart from the faithful and impartial discharge of the persons public duties or that a reasonable person in that position should know under the circumstances is given them for the purpose of rewarding the person for official action taken.

• An officer or employee may not receive compensation for assisting any person or entity in any transaction with the city or town without a written or oral disclosure to the mayor and public.

If the governing body finds that a person has violated the Act and indeed broken the law, it may dismiss, suspend or take such other appropriate action with respect to the person.

In addition, complaints of criminal conduct will be investigated by county attorneys, and in some cases, the Utah Attorney General’s office.

On condition that a crime has been committed, the appropriate investigation and screening by a prosecutor should be allowed to take place. The practice of using an accusation of an ethical violation or conflict of interest for political purposes — to wrongly sway or influence another — is out of character with integrity.

Material referenced in this column has been drawn from “Powers and Duties — A Handbook for Utah Municipal Officials” by the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

Steve Curtis has worked as a business consultant and communication specialist. He is currently mayor of Layton. He can be reached at

Sign up for e-mail news updates.