TRPA examines how to behave
Ten rules of conduct are back on the agenda of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Governing Board meeting this Wednesday in Stateline, this time under the moniker “standards of conduct.”
A vote was delayed in the November meeting after board members expressed dissatisfaction with the rules’ wording. Some also did not want to sign a document and preferred it be brought as a resolution that board members vote on.
“I’ve never been asked to sign an agreement that I not misbehave,” said board member Jerome Waldie, a California Senate appointee.
The resolution has only one change from last month’s document.
Item No. 3 last month read: “To agree to trust intentions and information offered.” It now reads: “To agree to trust intentions of those offering information.”
Two of the 10 rules mention relations with the media. Rule No. 1 prohibits professional disparagement to the press, while rule No. 7 requires including their communications director, Julie Regan, in all media requests.
TRPA executive director John Singlaub said last month those rules would not prevent freedom to talk to the press.
“One of the things we had in the past was individual board members would hand over material to the media if the media called them,” Singlaub said. He and Regan said last month such codes are standard in local government offices.
A brief survey of codes of conduct and ethics rules in other local governments found most do not have any rules regarding relations with the press and most have to do with duties to the public.
For instance, El Dorado County’s code of ethics warns about making promises or special favors to members of the public. It promotes decisions that “benefit the public interest” and asks elected officials to demonstrate the “highest standards of personal integrity, truthfulness and honesty in all public activities.”
The TRPA’s proposed code, on the other hand, is unique in that it focuses more on behavior between the board and agency staff.
“We are appealing to mutual understanding (between) the board and the staff,” Regan said. “The suggested rules of conduct serve more of a symbolic purpose than any kind of enforcement strategy.”
The agency’s compact mandates only one thing of board members: that they disclose economic interests in the region and recuse themselves when those interests may be affected by a board decision.
The states of California and Nevada both have laws regarding ethics of elected and government officials.
An ethics commission will impose civil penalty, like a fine or reprimand, if they find an official violated ethics rules, according to Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Brian Schally.
Criminal laws and penalties will also apply in certain instances, such as accepting bribes, Schally said.
Placer, Washoe, Douglas and El Dorado Counties, as well as the city of South Lake Tahoe all have procedural rules for officials which mostly address how to conduct a public meeting.
For instance, the City Council’s code of conduct says the mayor can prevent the “misuse of a motion.”
“In so ruling, the mayor shall be courteous and fair and should presume that the moving party is acting in good faith,” the code says.
Also on the board’s agenda are several transportation funding items, a change to the agency’s code regarding legal hearings and building allocations for 2006.
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