May 13, 2008

Bob Kirnard Speech to the Guilford Delegation on Ethics on the Local Level

The speech below was for the Lobby the Legislator Meeting on Monday April 21, 2008 in front of the Guilford County delegation. Bob Kirnard from the Coalition of Concerned Citizens had the opportunity to speak about Ethics at the Local Level. Enclosed is the speech:

My name is Bob Kirnard. I would like to talk a little about the State Government Ethics Act and it’s possible acceptance by and application to the City of Greensboro. First of all, let’s talk a little about the definitions of ethics and morality. Ethics is the process of determining right from wrong as it relates to our everyday conduct. Morality is defined as a system of determining right and wrong that is established by some authority, in this case a governmental authority. People need to be taught right from wrong and hence the need for ethical education, not just in government, but in all cases where trust and protection of the public good is at stake.

The City of Greensboro’s “code of ethics” (which is about a page long) talks about “…protecting the integrity of governmental decisions…, promoting public confidence…, and impartiality and fairness in decision making.

I think much of this has been questioned recently by the residents of the City of Greensboro. You see Newspaper articles quite frequently relating to conflicts of interest in proposed development projects and questionable influences on some of those empowered with voting on these same projects.

I feel the time has come for the City of Greensboro to look for more in terms of ethical guidance and continuing ethical education. The State Government Ethics Act should be used as a model and be adopted by the City of Greensboro and other cities.

As Greensboro grows, our elected and appointed officials will have an even more challenging time trying to handle that growth in the best possible way for the common good.

Now, more than ever, we need to establish and maintain ethics educational programs for Greensboro’s public servants. They need to periodically take refresher courses in ethical conduct and standards relating to their day to day job activities.

A Commission needs to be established to enforce and oversee the rules of ethical conduct and resolve ethical conflicts. Without enforcement, reform will mean nothing.

A harder look needs to be taken at those members that are to be elected or appointed to the zoning commission and the city council.

In particular, fairness and impartiality need to be established and demonstrated through diversification of members sitting on both boards.

It does not look very fair or impartial to have active developers in real estate sitting on the boards and making decisions on development projects that may benefit the companies that they work for.

It also does not seem fair and impartial to know that the lawyers pleading their cases have made sizeable contributions to members empowered with deciding their cases.
In order to restore public confidence in local government, and have the citizens feel like they are being treated with impartiality and fairness, we need to expand the jurisdiction of the State Government Ethics Act to the cities as well.

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