The Board of Supervisors will attend a state-mandated ethics training this week, sparking one supervisor to question how other counties define their code of ethics and whether additional guidelines are necessary in Merced County.
District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh brought the issue to light at a board meeting last week. He said other counties have specific rules when it comes to nepotism, transparency and conflicts of interest and wondered whether Merced County could benefit from exploring those policies.
“I knew the ethics training was coming up, so I asked that we do a little research to see what other counties are doing, and if they have any unique rules related to board members,” Walsh said. “If there are other counties that have things we might be interested in, why not look at them and review them for consideration?”
Walsh asked County Executive Officer Jim Brown and County Counsel James Fincher to look into the policies of other counties. Walsh said some municipalities have transparency regulations, such as requiring elected officials to disclose if they’ve had discussions with proponents or opponents of a project before casting a vote.
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“I wanted to see if there were other things we should consider,” Walsh said Tuesday. “We should look at rules from other counties and see if they do it differently.”
District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said she advocated for a policy four years ago that would prohibit board members from voting on proposals from companies or individuals that donated $250 or more to their campaigns. That idea was struck down by the board members at the time.
“We talked about it a little bit in the past and it was always a no-go,” Kelsey said.
Unlike neighboring Fresno and Stanislaus counties, Merced County does not have a written code of ethics for its board members. Both Walsh and Kelsey said they would consider discussions related to establishing one.
According to the Stanislaus County Code of Ethics, adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 1991, elected officials should never provide “special favors or privileges” or accept benefits that could be construed as influencing the performance of one’s governmental duties.
The Stanislaus County policy also covers promoting public interest, demonstrating personal integrity and using confidential information for private profit.
The Fresno County Code of Ethics, adopted in 1990 and revised in 2008, covers similar topics and includes exposing corruption when discovered and not accepting money or commission as quid pro quo for county services.
Fresno County also requires its Board of Supervisors to go through ethics training at least once annually.
Merced County contracts with the Fresno-based law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore to provide the ethics training to elected officials, managers and certain employees every two years.
The passage of state Assembly Bill 1234 in 2005 made ethics training a requirement for all public officials within one year of taking office with a repeat training scheduled for every two years.