Ethics for Local Government Officials
FAQ for Ethics for Local Elected Officials
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 2014 must take the mandatory ethics training by November 2015. This includes incumbent officials who took the training after their previous election(s). Since those officials will begin a new term of office if reelected in November 2014, the training requirement is triggered again.
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.
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.
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, nor does the State Ethics Act training count toward the local ethics education requirement. Why is this? Because the laws that must be addressed in each type of training are different. As a result, those local elected officials who are “dual covered” must take both trainings.
Training for the State Ethics Act is available online at the State Ethics Commission website.
The law does not impose formal sanctions 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.
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.