Tucson ethics code has some questionable language

Tucson ethics code has some questionable language

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The city of Tucson will study the first draft of an ethics code brought on by the actions of Ward 2 city council member Paul Cunningham last year.

He admits to being drunk and saying lewd and sexually suggestive comments in the presence of  several top-level city employees.

After the incident, Cunningham entered rehab.

Cunningham did not violate the city's code of conduct for elected officials because there is none.

That's about to change.

Pushed hard by Ward 3 council member Karin Uhlich and Ward 1 council member Regina Romero, the council will discuss a June 27 ethics code draft during a study session this week.

The code addresses not just elected officials, but appointed staff, commission and committee members as well.

Many city employees, who did not want to be identified, said if they had acted that way, they'd likely be fired.

There has been a behavior code for city workers for many years.

The new code would put everyone on the same page.

"All of us get our paychecks from the same people," says Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild. "Which are the citizens, taxpayers of Tucson and we should all be subject to the same rules.

But while an employee may be fired, an elected official cannot.

The strictest punishment is censure for elected officials and removal for appointed staff.

"Removal from office is not a council function," says Ward 6 council member Steve Kozachik. "That should be up to the voters."

Censure is a rebuke from the mayor and council and while it carries no legal weight, a candidate will have it on his record should he or she decide to seek re-election.

But there's one part of the code, on Page 7, which has caught Kozachik's eye and what he believes could doom the ethics code unless it's rewritten.

It says "elected officials and their appointed staff shall not intervene directly with City staff on behalf of a particular constituent..."

"That's what we do," Kozachik said. "We do that every day."

Constituency service is a big part of any elected person's job.

"We don't want to have a government run by City staff bureaucrats," he said.

If there is a violation of that section, the rest of the council could censure the office holder.

"It's beyond common sense," he said.

Kozachik says he believes there are many on the council who feel the same way and it could be a vote killer.

Rothschild reads the language a little differently suggesting it will prohibit elected officials from making promises they can't keep.

"We all have constituents who call us and say can you help us with this of that," he says.

We should be able to go to staff to make sure "we have the right answer," he says.

But he adds, "it doesn't mean we can change the law for a constituent."

But he also believes the language may be a bit rough and needs work.

"We'll talk about that language over the table," he says.

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