Do you want your elected officials to be courteous, ethical and open minded?
But North Mankato Councilwoman Diane Norland found that getting her fellow council members to settle on an official code of conduct is no easy matter.
Norland wanted the council to adopt a “Statement of Values” to promote and maintain the highest standards of conduct among elected officials, managers and employees of the city.
It is, she said, a way to get government leaders to treat each other and constituents with more civility.
The three-page statement is sort of an “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten” outline for being good and nice.
The statement of values has the obvious things — don’t break laws, don’t use your public position to profit financially.
But the statement has a host of other rules of conduct for officials to achieve. It says council members must approach their work with a positive attitude, build on their professional skills, review all meeting materials ahead of time and conduct themselves in personal and public life in a manner that “is above reproach.”
It says council members will always disagree respectfully, won’t interrupt and will listen to all views.
It’s not that anyone would disagree with any of the mom and apple pie values. But a majority of other council members disagreed — respectfully, of course — with Norland’s desire to adopt the statement of values.
For starters, they noted that few, if any human beings could achieve the stated code of conduct. And, if it was adopted, the city attorney suggested that people who have any kind of disagreement with a city council member could accuse them of violating the code.
The fact is, democracy is often a messy and even uncivil process. And public servants are representative of society: Some are cool and collected, others can be hotheads; some prepare exceptionally hard for a task, others coast; some are exceptionally bright, others pretty dim.
Everyone knows public officials should always strive to be good people and do good work. Reminding theselves of that once in a while may be a good practice, but officially adopting it is neither useful or practical.
Ultimately, how well elected officials conduct themselves is decided — as it should be — by the voters.