Frequently Asked Questions
1. When do I have to take the mandated ethics training?
The law says that local elected officials must complete the training within 12 months of the date of their election or appointment, and then again within 12 months of their re-election or re-appointment. The training requirement is triggered each time the official is re-elected or reappointed to office.
Every official elected or re-elected in November 2011 must take the mandatory ethics training by November 2012. This applies to incumbent officials who took the training when the law went into effect in 2009. Since those officials will begin a new term of office if reelected in November 2011, the training requirement is triggered again.
2. Who is covered under the law?
The ethics education requirement applies to the governing board members of all North Carolina cities, counties, local school boards, sanitary districts, unified governments, and consolidated city-counties. The requirement applies regardless of whether the board member was elected or appointed to office.
The ethics education requirement does not apply to other local government board members, such as local boards of health, social services, elections, planning, etc. However, the code of ethics adopted by a local governing board may impose ethics education requirements and other ethical standards on local board members.
The ethics education requirement does not apply to local government employees. However, the code of ethics adopted by a local governing board may impose ethics education requirements and other ethical standards on its own employees.
3. What obligations do Clerks have under the law?
Clerks to local government governing boards are required to maintain the record verifying that their board members have completed the mandatory ethics training. However, it is the responsibilty of the board member himself or herself to take the training and obtain the verification form to provide to the clerk. Sample verification forms are available here.
4. If local governing board members receive ethics training under the State Ethics Act because they serve on a state board, such as a community college boards of trustees, does that satisfy the requirement for training under the local government ethics law?
Local government officials who are also “public servants” under G.S. Chapter 138A, the State Government Ethics Act ("State Ethics Act"), must participate in mandatory ethics education required by the State Ethics Act in addition to the ethics training required under the Local Government Ethics Act. "Public servants" are certain officials and employees in the Executive Branch of state government, including the members of certain state boards and commissions, who are subject to the requirements and prohibitions of the State Ethics Act.
The local government ethics training taken by persons covered by the State Ethics Act does not count towards the mandatory state ethics act training requirement. On the other hand, whether the mandatory state ethics act training can be used to satisfy the local governing training requirement is less clear. This issue is not specifically addressed in the local government ethics law.
The safest course is to assume that, for those local elected officials who are “dual covered,” the education taken to satisfy the requirement under one statute does not satisfy the requirement under the other, unless and until this issue is clarified by the General Assembly.
Training for the State Ethics Act is available online at the State Ethics Commission website.
5. What happens if an elected official does not comply with the law requiring ethics training?
The law does not impose and formal sanctions in place for elected officials who do not comply with the ethics training requirement. However, officials should remember the informal sanction of citizen and media opinion. The public could rightly assume that someone who doesn’t comply with this law will be willing to break others. And of course, disobeying the law is itself unethical.
In addition, the associations representing local officials (i.e., Association of County Commissioners, League of Municipalities, and School Boards Association) anticipate continued legislative interenst in the levels of participation by local elected officials.
6. If our Board has adopted a Code of Ethics, how can we check to see if it complies with what is mandated by state law?
If your board has adopted a code of ethics, and wishes to see whether it complies with what is mandated by the state law, it should seek the advice and interpretation of the board’s attorney. Your board may also wish to to consult with the Model Code of Ethics prepared by the School of Government, the Association of County Commissioners, and the League of Municipalities. The School’s faculty, and staff members at the Association and the League may also be able to help with discrete questions that your attorney or your board may have.