Ethics for Local Government Officials

Overview of Ethics for Local Government Officials

Ethics Training Quick Questions

Below are common questions about ethics training; for more information see "Ethics Training Opportunities" and the "FAQs"

  • Do I need to take ethics training this year?  By law, local elected officials must complete ethics training within 12 months of the date of their election or appointment to office, and then again within 12 months of their re-election or re-appointment.  If you were elected or re-elected in November of LAST year, you must complete the ethics training by November of THIS year.  If you were appointed at any time, you must complete the training within 12 months of the date of your appointment.
  • What obligation does the clerk to the board have?  Clerks to local government governing boards are required to maintain the record verifying that their board members have completed their ethics training.  However, it is the responsibility of the board member himself or herself to take the training and obtain the verification form to provide to the clerk.
  • I am on a state board which also requires state ethics training.  Can I just take one ethics training for both boards?  No, you must take both ethics trainings.  Local government officials who also serve on state boards or in other state positions covered under the State Government Ethics Act must take state ethics training which is different from the ethics training required for local government officials.  The local government ethics training does not count toward the state ethics training requirement, nor does the state ethics training count towards the local officials ethics training requirement.


Ethics Education Requirements

North Carolina law (G.S. 160A-87) requires all members of governing boards of cities, counties, local boards of education, unified governments, sanitary districts, and consolidated city-counties receive a minimum of two clock hours of ethics education within 12 months after initial election or appointment to office and again within 12 months after each subsequent election or appointment to office. (For school board members, the ethics education may be included in the 12 clock hours of education that they are required to received annually. G.S. 115C-50(a))

The ethics education must cover laws and principles that govern conflicts of interest and ethical standards of conduct at the local government level. It may be provided by the N.C. League of Municipalities, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, the UNC School of Government, or other qualified sources of the board’s choosing.

The clerk to each governing board must maintain a record verifying receipt of the ethics education by each board member.  The obligation to take the training and obtain verification of compliance with the law rests with the board member.

More information about ethics training opportunities is available here.


Codes of Ethics

North Carolina law (G.S. 160A-86) also requires all North Carolina cities, counties, local boards of education, unified governments, sanitary districts, and consolidated city-counties to adopt a resolution or policy containing a code of ethics to guide actions by the governing board members in the performance of their official duties as members of that governing board. The board was required to adopt its ethics policy on or before January 1, 2011.

The ethics policy must address at least five key responsibilities of board members, responsibilities that reflect concern for ethical principles as well as for the effects of the board members’ decisions on others.

The five areas to be addressed are:

  1. The need to obey all applicable laws regarding official actions taken as a board member. For example, the member must honor his or her oath of office, in which the member swore to uphold the constitution and laws.
  2. The need to uphold the integrity and independence of the board member's office. Among other things, this principle requires board members to make decisions that are based on the public good and not on their desires or considerations of special interest.
  3. The need to avoid impropriety in the exercise of the board member's official duties. Recall that board members are to act as “especially responsible citizens,” who are to honor the public trust” as they carry out their duties. Their official actions should be above reproach.
  4. The need to faithfully perform the duties of the office. A public official who acts faithfully is one whom others can trust and respect.
  5. The need to conduct the affairs of the governing board in an open and public manner, including complying with all applicable laws governing open meetings and public records. A public official who is honest, fair, and caring, and honors the public trust will honor the spirit as well as the letter of the law. He or she will see openness or transparency is an important part of that responsibility.

The statute leaves local boards a good deal of leeway in deciding what their codes will contain, as long as the code addresses the five topics listed above. It may be very detailed, or it may be very general. It may state aspirations towards which the board is striving, or it may purport to prohibit certain board actions. The board may look to model local government codes of ethics for guidance in developing the resolution or policy.

Public Officials - Local and State Government Roles
Topics - Local and State Government