I just returned from the annual conference of the New Hampshire Municipal Management Association (NHMMA), the state association of town, city and county managers and administrators. During the year, NHMMA meets monthly for educational sessions about current subjects facing local government, including budgeting, interaction with state agencies, the State retirement system, legislative issues, and general management. Once a year, NHMMA hosts a conference with longer training sessions and more opportunities to interact with peers.
This year’s conference featured two workshops: "Asking Your Police and Fire Chief the Right Questions," and "Building an Ethical Culture – The Leader’s Role."
The first workshop focused primarily on using data on time and duration of calls to make decisions relating to staffing, equipment, and budgets. While I came away with a few useful tools, the session mainly focused on larger communities with unionized police and fire departments. For instance, while New London has eight full-time police officers, with one or two officers working each shift, the sample communities had over 30 officers per shift. Nonetheless, the workshop emphasized the importance of deploying staff to align with the variations of calls by season, day of the week, and hour of the day, a method that our Police Chief has espoused for years.
With respect to fire departments, again the workshop probably gave greater benefit to managers of larger communities, where 24-hour shifts are not uncommon. Still, the speaker recommended something that we have long heard from the leadership of our Fire Department: the focus should be on fire prevention, code enforcement, early detection, and early suppression (sprinklers). If we have to respond to a fully-engaged building fire, then these early steps either failed or were not taken. The speaker also recommended lower full-time staffing levels, again something our Fire Department has modeled. Finally, the speaker reviewed the latest technology for fighting fires, most of which we already use.
The second workshop focused on strategies to identify and address ethical issues within town government. We discussed case studies resulting from bribery, extortion, violations of confidentiality, misuse of social media (Facebook, Twitter), and misuse of town credit cards. Many managers, including me, gave examples of incidents that were either unethical or could have been perceived as unethical, and how we must regularly check our own actions and those of town staff to ensure that we keep the public trust.
The New London Personnel Policy includes a section on ethics, conduct, and conflicts of interest, which reads in part: "The successful operation and reputation of the Town is built upon the principles of fair dealing and ethical conduct of our employees. Our reputation for integrity and excellence requires careful observance of the spirit and letter of all applicable laws and regulations, as well as a scrupulous regard for the highest standards of conduct and personal integrity. The continued success of the Town is dependent upon our citizens' trust and we are dedicated to earning and preserving that trust. Employees owe a duty to the Town, its citizens, and taxpayers to act in a way that will merit the continued trust and confidence of the public."
NHMMA has adopted the ethics code of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), which has 12 tenets that not only make clear the behavior expected of professional managers but also explains some of the core principles under which we operate:
Tenet 1: Be dedicated to the concepts of effective and democratic local government by responsible elected officials and believe that professional general management is essential to the achievement of this objective.
Tenet 2: Affirm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by government and maintain a constructive, creative, and practical attitude toward local government affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant
Tenet 3: Be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the respect and confidence of the elected officials, of other officials and employees, and of the public.
Tenet 4: Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all people.
Tenet 5: Submit policy proposals to elected officials; provide them with facts and advice on matters of policy as a basis for making decisions and setting community goals; and uphold and implement local government policies adopted by elected officials.
Tenet 6: Recognize that elected representatives of the people are entitled to the credit for the establishment of local government policies; responsibility for policy execution rests with the members.
Tenet 7: Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators. Refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body.
Tenet 8: Make it a duty continually to improve the member's professional ability and to develop the competence of associates in the use of management techniques.
Tenet 9: Keep the community informed on local government affairs; encourage communication between the citizens and all local government officers; emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public; and seek to improve the quality and image of public service.
Tenet 10: Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.
Tenet 11: Handle all matters of personnel on the basis of merit so that fairness and impartiality govern a member's decisions, pertaining to appointments, pay adjustments, promotions, and discipline.
Tenet 12: Seek no favor; believe that personal aggrandizement or profit secured by confidential information or by misuse of public time is dishonest.
If at any time you feel that I or another staff person in New London is not acting ethically, please contact me or a member of the Board of Selectmen to discuss your concerns.
Jessie Levine, Town
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