by David Ball
City Ethics Officer Carla Miller introduced the newly adopted ethics provisions to members of the City Council staff on Wednesday as the first of many steps to integrate the new laws into the daily workings of city government.
“The first session was to put everything in perspective and to talk about the difference between ethics and laws, because there is a big difference,” said Miller, who will meet with the group again today.
“We’ll talk about some more specific scenarios,” Miller added, “and as they go off for the holidays, I’ll work with the General Counsel’s Office to take what (the Council staff) may find confusing and create the best training I can come up with – really get it down to the essence of what they need.”
The reformed ethics code includes new provisions such as regulating how staff involved in big City contracts can leave to go work for those contracted firms. However, the main provisions the Council staff, such as Executive Council Assistants and those in Legislative Services, need to become familiar with deal with food and gift contributions from lobbyists.
In the code, City officials can accept a gift or food purchase of $100 or less from a lobbyist with total gifts from a single lobbyist not to exceed $250 in a year. However, food purchases of $25 or less can occur more frequently, as they do not count towards the yearly total.
Miller instructed the Council staff not to get too bogged down in the technicalities of the law, but to adopt an overall ethical mind set to help guide their decision-making.
“If you are really focused on the job and helping people by making ethical decisions, you are doing the right thing,” said Miller. “If you get caught up in tracking how much each meal is worth, it can drive you crazy.”
Debbie Delgado, ECA for Council member Art Shad, said the new laws wouldn’t necessarily add many more layers to the jobs performed by her and other ECAs.
“The layers are already there,” said Delgado. “Carla just wants to come in and trying to work with all of us. Ethics is not just rule-oriented. It shouldn’t be as technically oriented, shouldn’t be such a hassle.”
A few other ECAs wouldn’t comment, saying they hadn’t yet reviewed the entire 80-page ethics code. However, Delgado said she doesn’t foresee being bogged down with counting meal receipts.
“The gift and meal disclosures are one thing we need to keep track of, but Art really doesn’t get gifts anyway,” she said. “He’s always picking up the tab anyway, and he’s never been near the limit.”
Miller said she’s also working to expand the registration requirements for lobbyists, specifically creating a section on the registration form where lobbyist attest to reading and understanding the new provisions of the code.
“On our books right now, we have that if a lobbyist gives in excess of $250, he or she has violated the code,” said Miller. “We have the burden of the lobbyist to keep track too, and I think that most of them don’t know that. They should know that.”