Guidelines on Conduct

Topics

 

              Appearance of Impropriety Nepotism
  Campaign Contributions Private Employment
  Conferences and Receptions Public Service Announcements
  Contracts and Leases Tickets and Special Access
  Department Employees Travel and Lodging
  Food and Drink Use of County Property
  Gifts and Services After You Leave County Service
  Honorariums and Speches  

Appearance of Impropriety 

This website is provided as an information resource only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.  For authoritative information consult the Wisconsin Statutes, the Milwaukee County Code of General Ordinances, and/or the Milwaukee County Ethics Board.

 

County officials and employees are representatives of the county and are in the public eye.  County officials and employees must be conscious that their actions and decisions are scrutinized more than the actions and decisions of the average person. As a general rule, county officials and employees must not accept items or services offered to them because of their public position, and must not participate in decisions that benefit or affect them personally or financially.

  • When offered an item or service, county officials and employees should ask themselves:

  • What is the intent of the person offering the item or service?

  • Is this item or service being offered to me because of my public position?

  • Would it be reasonable for someone to believe that this item or service will influence my judgment or actions?

  • Would it be reasonable for someone to believe that this item or service was offered as a reward for past or future action?

If the county official or employee answers “yes” to any of these questions, the official or employee should not accept the item or service.  If the official or employee is uncertain, he or she should decline or donate the item or service to the county to avoid any appearance of impropriety.  County officials and employees may also contact the Ethics Board with any inquiries. (Return to Topics)
 

Campaign Contributions 


County elected officials are not prohibited from using the title or prestige of their office to obtain campaign contributions, as long as the contributions are permitted and reported as required by Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin Statutes  (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(a)). 

 

However, elected officials may not knowingly solicit a campaign contribution from any “at-will employee.”  An “at will” employee is an employee who serves at the pleasure of a county official, who is not under union or labor contract with the county, who is hired for an indefinite term or who is under an independent contract with the county or its subparts, or who can be discharged or terminated at any time for any nondiscriminatory reason (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(j)).

 

 In addition, no person with a financial interest in the approval or denial of a contract being considered by a county department or with an agency funded by a county department may make a campaign contribution to any official who has approval authority over that contract during its consideration (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(k)).  For example, if a business is currently in negotiations with the county, that business owner cannot make a campaign contribution to any official who is involved in the approval or denial of that contract.  Contract or proposal consideration shall begin when a contract or proposal is submitted to a county department or to an agency funded or regulated by a county department and shall continue until the contract or proposal has reached final disposition, including adoption, county executive action, proceedings on veto (if necessary) or departmental approval (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(k)).  Furthermore, a campaign contribution cannot be accepted if it could be construed as a “reward” for the contract  (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(b)). (Return to Topics)
 

Conferences and Receptions 


In general, county officials and employees cannot use their position for private benefit or accept anything of value that could reasonably be expected to influence their actions or judgment or be construed as a reward for past action (M.C.G.O. §§ 9.01 and 9.05).  In addition, county officials and employees should not accept offers to attend conferences or receptions, or lodging, food, meals, etc. offered in connection with a conference or reception, or receive anything of value, if the officials or employees are attending while being paid by the County or they used county resources for their participation.

 

However, if a conference or reception is primarily an informational or educational event related to an official’s or employee’s duties, the person may attend (even at a reduced cost or no cost).  In that instance, the official or employee may also accept food, drink, travel, etc., but only if the arrangements are included as part of the conference and are offered to all attendees on the same terms and conditions, and only if it is clear that the primary beneficiary is the county, not the individual.

 

If a person is required to file a Statement of Economic Interests, any lodging, transportation, money or other thing with a combined pecuniary value exceeding $50.00, not including food or beverage offered coincidentally with a talk or meeting, must be reported (M.C.G.O. § 9.14(2)(a)). 

 

County officials or employees with questions about attending an event should ask their supervisor or the county department that would otherwise be responsible for the costs of the conference or reception. (Return to Topics)  
 

Contracts and Leases


A county official or employee may not enter into any contract with the county unless that contract has been awarded through the public notice and competitive bidding process (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(g)).  This restriction also applies to the official’s or employee’s spouse and any business with which the official or employee or his or her spouse has a significant fiduciary relationship.

 

In addition, a county official or employee, and any business with which he or she has a ten percent or greater interest, may not enter into a lease of real property with the county, except upon request, and then only if the county board waives this requirement in the best interest of the county (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(h)).  (Return to Topics)  
 

Department Employees


The Ethics Code applies to all county employees, regardless of whether the employee is required to file a Statement of Economic Interests or is a union member, classified employee or exempt employee. (Return to Topics)

Food and Drink


County officials and employees are prohibited from using their public position to obtain personal financial gain or anything of value that could reasonably be expected to influence their actions or judgment or be considered a reward for official action or inaction (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)).  Therefore, county officials and employees may not accept food or drink, including dinner invitations, which could be expected to influence their actions or judgment.

 

However, county officials and employees may accept food and drink offered for a reason unrelated to their public position and which could not reasonably be expected to influence their official vote or action.  In addition, county officials and employees are not prohibited from accepting food and beverage offered coincidentally with a talk or meeting (M.C.G.O. § 9.14(1)).

 

Generally, any food or beverage with a combined pecuniary value exceeding $50.00 must be reported on an individual’s Statement of Economic Interests.  But, if food or beverage is offered coincidentally with a talk or meeting that a county official or employee is attending in his or her official capacity, the value of that food or beverage does not need to be reported on his or her Statement of Economic Interests. However, the receipt of anything else of value would need to be reported. (Return to Topics)
 

Gifts and Services


County officials and employees are prohibited from using their public position to obtain personal financial gain or anything of substantial value.  County officials and employees are also prohibited from accepting and retaining anything of value that could reasonably be expected to influence their actions or judgment or be considered a reward for official action or inaction  (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)).

 

To avoid any potential Ethics Code violations, county officials and employees should not accept any items, gifts or services offered because of their public position.  County officials and employees should also decline any items, gifts or services that could reasonably be expected to influence their actions or judgment or be construed as a reward.

 

If a county official or employee receives an item or gift not authorized by the Ethics Code, the official or employee must return it.  If the official or employee is required to file a Statement of Economic Interests, the item must be reported (M.C.G.O. § 9.14(4)). (Return to Topics)
 

Honorariums and Speeches


County officials and employees may receive and retain compensation for speeches, publications, etc., but only if the activity or publication is accomplished by the official or employee without the use of the county’s time, resources or property and outside the course of his or her official duties (M.C.G.O. § 9.14(3)). 

 

If a county official or employee receives a payment not authorized by the Ethics Code, the official or employee must return it or deposit that payment in the county’s general revenue fund.  If the official or employee is required to file a Statement of Economic Interests, the payment must be reported (M.C.G.O. § 9.14(4)). (Return to Topics)
 

Nepotism


A qualified candidate should not be denied county employment simply because his or her spouse or family member is employed by the county or holds a position with the county.  However, county officials and employees are prohibited from using their public position or office to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value for the benefit of their spouse or immediate family members.  (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(a)).  Therefore, a county official or employee may not hire a spouse or immediate family member. 

“Immediate family member” means a county official’s or employee’s spouse or a child, parent, sibling, in-law or step-parent who receives, directly or indirectly, more than one-half of his or her support from the official or employee, or from whom the official or employee receives, directly or indirectly, more than one-half of his or her support. 

 

Nepotism involving relatives other than a spouse or legal dependant, although not specifically prohibited by the Ethics Code, should be avoided to prevent any appearance of impropriety.  With that in mind, a county official or employee should not be involved in the hiring or promotion of any relative such as a spouse, parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or cousin.

 

County officials and employees are not prohibited from assisting friends or acquaintances in obtaining employment with the county.  However, all county employees and officials should be mindful of their duty to not share inside information acquired by virtue of their position with the county, including information about hiring practices.

 

Examples of Ethics Code violations include hiring a spouse for county employment or approving a contract for a spouse’s business.  (Return to Topics)  
 

Private Employment


The Ethics Code does not prohibit county officials and employees from engaging in outside employment, provided that the official or employee does not use his or her public position to benefit his or her employer in violation of the Ethics Code (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)(b)).  However, specific administrative rules may limit a person’s ability to engage in outside employment.  Therefore, before engaging in outside employment, officials and employees are encouraged to consult with their department head.

 

All county officials and employees should be mindful of their duty not to share inside information regarding the county with others.  If a county official or employee engages in outside employment, the official or employee may not use information gained by virtue of his or her relationship with the county to benefit his or her private employer.  For example, county officials and employees should not:

  • Disclose information about property that the county owns that is not part of the public record.

  • Use any county property in the course of performing services for another person or entity.

Elected officials do not have fixed hours of work by law.  An elected official may hold outside employment or another elected office (as long as he or she is performing his or her duties as an elected official).

 

Elected officials and employees may also work as consultants as long as the work is done on their own time or by using time off.  It is important to remember, however, that neither officials nor employees should use any county property or resources in the course of providing services to any entity other than the county.  (Return to Topics) 
 

Public Service Announcements


County officials are encouraged to meet with citizens to discuss legislative, administrative, executive and judicial processes, as well as proposals and issues initiated by or affecting the county.  Public service announcements are one way of reaching out to the public to address these issues.

 

In general, county officials may receive assistance with the writing, direction, recording and dissemination of a public service announcement that discusses governmental processes or issues related to the legislature, the courts, or an office or agency of the county, as long as the announcement identifies the organization providing the assistance.  However, county officials should not accept assistance from an organization that employs a lobbyist who lobbies the county.  In addition, public officials who are running for re-election should not participate in public service announcements just prior to an election because the announcement may be construed as providing greater benefit to the official than to the County.  (Return to Topics) 
 

Tickets and Special Access


County officials and employees are prohibited from using their public position to obtain personal financial gain or anything of value that could reasonably be expected to influence their actions or judgment or be considered a reward for official action or inaction (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(2)). “Anything of value” is defined as any money or property, favor, service, payment, advance, forbearance, loan, or promise of future employment, business, or other consideration having a value greater than $25 (M.C.G.O. § 9.02(1)).

 

Therefore, county officials and employees generally should not accept tickets or special access to events unless the official or employee can demonstrate that the ticket is unrelated to the person’s position with the county, or unless the ticket or access is offered to the general public on the same terms and conditions.  (Return to Topics) 
 

Travel and Lodging


County officials and employees are often offered travel and lodging in connection with conferences and seminars.  County officials and employees may accept travel arrangements only if: 

  • The conference or seminar is primarily informational or educational and is related to the their official duties.

  • The travel or lodging is sanctioned by the event organizer (for example, discounted rooms offered to all conference attendees in conjunction with a conference).

  • It is clear that the primary beneficiary is the county, not the individual.

County officials and employees may not accept travel or lodging from a lobbyist who lobbies the county or from anyone who is trying to obtain a contract with the county.  To avoid any appearance of impropriety, it is best for county officials and employees to obtain authorization from the County Board of Supervisors or their department administrator before accepting travel or lodging.  (Return to Topics) 
 

Use of County Property


County officials and employees should not use county property for personal reasons.  This includes but is not limited to: office supplies, telephones, computers, copy machines, tools, equipment, construction materials and vehicles. 

 

County officials and employees may not take home county equipment or vehicles for personal use.  County officials and employees also may not use county telephones for personal reasons.  This includes telephone calls to friends, relatives, or political campaign headquarters.   According to the County’s Technology Policy issued in 2000, individual departments may permit the use of County technology for personal activities.  Employees should check with department administrators for specific policies.  (Return to Topics) 
 

After You Leave County Service


After a person ceases to be a county official or employee, that person may not do the following for compensation on behalf of any person other than a governmental entity:

  • Communicate with his or her former agency or department as a paid representative for 12 months after leaving public office or county employment.

  • Communicate with any agency or department as a paid representative for 12 months related to matters for which the official or employee was formerly responsible.

  • Represent any person other than the county in connection with any proceeding, application, contract, claim, or charge which was under that person’s former responsibilities as a county official or employee (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(3)(a),(b)).

If a former official or employee personally participated in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding during his or her office or employment, that person may not participate in that proceeding at any time after leaving his or her office or employment, regardless of whether it is for compensation or not (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(3)(c)).

 

These prohibitions may be waived for former appointed officials.  In order to seek an exemption, the former appointed official must make a written request to the Ethics Board.  The Ethics Board will hear and deliberate the request during open session at an Ethics Board meeting, and, if the request is approved, the Ethics Board must issue a written opinion stating the reasons for the exemption (M.C.G.O. § 9.05(3)(d)).  (Return to Topics) 
 

 

This site is powered by the Northwoods Titan Content Management System