“No estés chillando, C@#$0n.”
Here is why I chose that theme for this inaugural column on ethics: To this day, I still chuckle remembering a client who used that phrase to dismiss a colleague in closed session when they weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. Although unrefined, it reminded me that, even though we’re complicated beings with our own internal and – let’s face it – sometimes political motivations, we’re all in this together, and our individual success is often tied to the success and well-being of our common group.
The phrase is timeless: simple in its delivery and powerful in its import. Sometimes, we just have to suck it up and get down to the work at hand.
And if the work involves public officials making decisions in the public arena, it is critical to have a solid understanding of what ethics laws require. Not only that, but what the law requires may not be (and usually is not) the full picture of what solid ethical standards look like. Future editions of this column will answer questions like: “What is this so-called ‘500-foot Rule’ and does it really mean I can’t vote on a particular agenda item?” Or, “How do I handle an ethical dilemma arising out of that last contentious closed session we had with the City Manager?”
And while laws like the Brown Act and the Public Records Act give us minimum standards of transparency, the people we serve might expect or demand other levels of access. Or, while conflicts of interest laws and regulations may be arcane or difficult to navigate, a local headline suggesting that we have acted outside the rules in our own self-interest can have detrimental effects on our relationships with colleagues and constituents. Negative press can also make it harder to get reelected.
And so, with all due respect and a nod to our common humanity and inner Spanglish voices, I say to you: “No estes chillando, Mr. or Ms. Elected Official.” Learning about and practicing good ethics as a public servant is the first and most critical step you can take to ensure your success in your role as a community leader. Although your votes and your decisions might be subject to debate or even derision, your personal reputation as an honorable and ethical person will follow you for the rest of your career.
Through its newsletters, blogs and other vehicles, the Southern California Latino Policy Center will offer its members and friends useful tools and education on ethics laws, effective governance and other critical areas. We encourage you to contact us with your questions and comments.
About our blogger: Ruben Duran is a partner in Best Best & Krieger LLP’s Los Angeles office. He has counseled elected officials for nearly 17 years and offers training throughout California on good governance and ethics. A former city attorney, he is a regular speaker for the California Institute for Local Government and serves as the general counsel to the Oxnard Harbor District, which owns and operates the commercial Port of Hueneme.