the ethics of conference rooms
Several days ago I was contacted by a candidate running for Green Party endorsement for a State office, asking me to reserve a conference room in City Hall for his and other candidates’ campaign kickoff press conference. (I won’t be mentioning any names in this post because I don’t want this to be construed as campaigning for the candidates in question).
I thought this sounded fine, and reserved a conference room. Then I thought about it for a second. A conference room is a public resource and we were talking about using them to assist 3 political campaigns. Was this really city business? A red flag was raised and it is our policy in the Ward 2 office that when in doubt, we check it out. So I decided I’d better ask the City’s Ethics Officer. (Note: as of right now, that link is factually incorrect. The Ethics Officer is now Susan Trammell. My aide has requested that the website be updated.) (Edit: the link is now fixed. Kudos to the City's website folks!)
The Ethics Officer was a position I fought hard for when on the Mayor’s Ethics Task Force in 2003. Her job is to interpret the City’s Ethics Code and offer opinions in these sorts of gray-area situations.
A few hours after asking for an opinion, it came back: don’t reserve the conference room. If the candidates want to apply to use a space in City Hall themselves, that’s fine, but I should avoid any appearance of my having pulled strings, or having inappropriately used public resources for non-public purposes.
Especially when she disagrees with my first assumptions, I’m sure glad we have an Ethics Officer down here to help keep us “electeds” from getting ourselves into trouble.
Oh, and the candidates are fine – they’ve found another venue for their kickoff.
And for future reference, if you want to reserve public space in City Hall, such as the rotunda, go here.