Peer Relationships: Incorporating the Code of Ethics
When TCMA Members think about our Code of Ethics, they usually think about how it applies to doing their job. While that’s important, it’s also essential to incorporate the Code of Ethics into the relationships we have with our peers. TCMA’s Code of Ethics is not just about behaving in a moral manner. There are things that we have voluntarily agreed to do by joining our professional association. This commitment benefits ourselves, our colleagues, and our profession.
A benefit of being a member of TCMA is that we can lift each other up and help each other succeed. One of the main ways to do this is by notifying a colleague when you have interacted with one of their elected officials. The Code of Ethics recommends that we should advise another member if one of their elected officials has inquired about that member’s performance. While this is a great habit, I think it’s equally important to notify the member if you’ve had any conversations with one of their elected officials. This will help strengthen our relationships, and it will also alleviate any concerns that members may have if they hear about the contact secondhand. It’s better to over-notify a member than have that member worry that a colleague is trying to undermine them.
One of the guidelines in the TCMA Code of Ethics states, “A member should share knowledge and expertise with a colleague that would aid the progress of the council policy development process.” This and some of the other guidelines from the Code of Ethics deal with sharing our experiences and knowledge with other members to help them perform better in their role. Whether it’s sharing your experience in dealing with a similar situation or sharing empirical data that you’ve gathered, it’s incumbent upon all TCMA members to help each other.
Another Code of Ethics guideline states, “A member should exercise discretion in using confidential information provided by a colleague.” This could be interpreted as being job-related confidential information (like information that might not typically be subject to public disclosure). However, it’s equally important to not disclose sensitive and/or personal information that a member has shared with you. During my career, there have been numerous times that I’ve reached out to a colleague to discuss a personnel issue or an issue that I’m having with an elected official. If a member had disclosed information that I shared, it could have negatively impacted my job. It also would have negatively impacted my professional relationship with that colleague. In local government, we deal with unique challenges. It’s imperative that we able to trust fellow members that have had similar experiences with confidential information. This is true in life, in general, but the repercussions can be even more damaging since we typically work in a political environment.
The TCMA Code of Ethics is a great tool to use when performing you job responsibilities and when dealing with peers. The codes and guidelines cannot possibly cover every imaginable scenario. Therefore, when confronted with a dilemma, examine the issue from another member’s perspective. When one of our members experiences an ethical lapse, it damages the profession. TCMA members need to build each other up and help each other succeed. This can be done by making the Code of Ethics a part of your everyday professional life.
(Article authored by Jimmy Stathatos, Town Manager, Flower Mound. Edited by members of the TCMA Ethics Committee.)