City Council to take a second look at its ethics pledge and code of conduct

(Updated 3:20 p.m.) Ahead of the new City Council being installed in January, the current body is scheduled to take another look at the city’s ethics pledge.

The Mayor and City Council make a pledge when being sworn in to abide by a somewhat nebulous one-page code of conduct. The pledge was a point of contention when it was introduced by then-Mayor Allison Silberberg, who fought tooth-and-nail to get the pledge passed.

Much of the pledge language is somewhat vague, such as a requirement of “fostering an ethical culture.” Silberberg lamented at the time that the final version of the pledge approved by the City Council was a more stripped-down version of what she’d originally envisioned.

The original plan from Silberberg was to include an Ethics Commission, a greater emphasis on transparency, and more stringent requirements on disclosure and recusal, but she clashed with then-Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and others on the dais including City Council member John Chapman.

The docket for the Saturday, Dec. 18, meeting says the City Council will review the effectiveness of the pledge.

The code of conduct, in its entirety, is:

Recognizing that persons holding public office have been given a public trust and that the
stewardship of such office demands that performance be at the highest level of ethical
and moral conduct, the Alexandria City Council adopts this Code of Ethics and Conduct.
To honor the public trust and serve with integrity, civility, and impartiality, the Mayor,
members of City Council, and appointed officials will:

  1. Provide the highest quality of service to the public, acting in a way that is
    conscientious, diligent, and transparent.
  2. Perform the functions of the office with integrity, avoiding any improper use or
    influence of the office.
  3. Not act on a matter in which a conflict of interest exists, and be diligent in
    avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest by disclosing same and
    acting in accord with the principles underlying this Code.
  4. Behave in a manner that inspires public confidence.
  5. Treat the public, city staff, and fellow public officials with professionalism,
    courtesy, and respect.
  6. Serve the public interest by upholding the letter and the spirit of City,
    Commonwealth, and Federal statutes, regulations, and policies.

To provide leadership in sustaining an ethical culture in Alexandria, the Mayor and
members of City Council will:

  • Participate in a professional development activity on ethical leadership
    that could include a class, workshop, conference or as part of a Council
    retreat at least once per year.
  • Engage, at least once per year, in community dialogue of ethics in
    governance via activities such as:

    • Leading a class at a local school;
    • Facilitating discussion at a community association or group;
  • Communicate to all boards and commissions the importance of ethics in
    conducting city business.
  • Include in a public hearing once a year a review of the effectiveness of this
    code of ethics and conduct and to present an annual ethical leadership
  • Ensure that the City website is updated with listings of relevant ethics
    materials to engage the Alexandria public.

The Mayor and members of City Council will work together to implement and monitor
this Code of Ethics and Conduct and make changes as needed.