Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Law to address state ethics shortcomings: Baldacci responds to abuses first revealed in the Phoenix

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Three weeks after the Portland Phoenix first reported that Maine Turnpike Authority officials had been treated to a $1342 dinner at a posh Portland restaurant by a Turnpike consultant, Governor John Baldacci has asked all so-called “independent” state agencies to adopt a code of ethics if they do not already have one.

Though it was not illegal, the dinner had drawn criticism from the governor in the Phoenix’s story, in which a statement from Baldacci’s indicated he would “support legislation to apply the same financial ethical standards to independent authorities that apply to state government.” (See “E-ZPass on Ethics,” by Lance Tapley, August 4.)

The Maine Turnpike Authority has no code of financial ethics, according to agency spokesman Dan Paradee. Other agencies covered by the new edict include the Finance Authority of Maine (which handles student-loan grants, business-development loans, and other state-subsidized financial efforts), and the Baxter State Park Authority.

Baldacci, who cannot order other agencies to take specific actions, has also asked officials in his administration to develop a proposed law that would require each “independent” agency to develop a code of ethics, which are not now mandatory, though some authorities do have them.

Proposed Code of Ethics and Conduct:

• Be guided by the highest standards of honor, personal integrity, and fortitude in all public activities in order to merit the respect of other officials, employees and the public. Strive to inspire public confidence and trust in Maine State Government and its related institutions.

• Serve the citizens of the State with respect, concern, courtesy, and responsiveness, recognizing that government service means service to the people of Maine; keep the Legislature and public informed on pertinent issues.

• Strive for professional excellence and encourage the professional development of associates and those seeking to enter the field of public administration in order to provide effective and responsible government to the citizens of Maine. The primary role is to provide the best possible and most cost effective service to the citizens of Maine.

• Approach organizational and operational duties with a positive attitude and constructively support open communication, cooperation, creativity, dedication and compassion.

• Avoid any interest or activity which is in conflict with the conduct of official duties. Serve in a manner as to avoid inappropriate personal gain resulting from the performance of official duties.

• Respect and protect the privileged information to which there is access in the course of official duties.

• Use discretionary authority to promote the public interest.

• Accept as a personal duty the responsibility to be informed of emerging issues and to administer the public’s business with professional competence, fairness, impartiality, efficiency and effectiveness.

• Support, implement, and promote programs of affirmative action to assure equal opportunity in the recruitment, selection, and advancement of qualified persons from all elements of society.

• Respect and value the work done by the employees of Maine State Government and its related institutions.