Don't leave code of ethics up to partisan politics

July 3, 2014

I support wholeheartedly the observance and administration of a code of ethics for all county officeholders and employees. The state code of ethics found in Title 29 Chapter 58 of the Delaware Code applies to all county and town officeholders and is administered by the State Public Integrity Commission.

If Sussex County or any town wishes to adopt its own code of ethics, the proposed code must be submitted to the state Public Integrity Commission for review and approval to confirm that it is at least as stringent as the state code and includes staffing and administrative structure, complaint procedures and advisory opinion requirements.

The counties and the towns in Delaware are not under any state mandate or requirement to adopt their own codes of ethics. Until the county or a town enacts its own codes, it remains under the state Code of Ethics. According to the Public Integrity Commission, only two of the 25 towns in Sussex - Lewes and Millsboro - have adopted their own code.

Contrary to statements by Dagsboro Mayor Brad Connor, neither Dagsboro nor “many towns” have their own code of ethics under the law. Sussex County, like most of our towns, relies on the state ethics code and the staff and procedures that the Public Integrity Commission already has in place.

It gives us the advantage of the independent, non-partisan collective experience that the state commission has in administering such matters, all at no expense to the county taxpayers. Also, having the process occur at the state level, a step removed from county government, ensures that the process remains truly independent and free from local politics.

We need to make the state Code of Ethics a priority for Sussex County. Sussex County Council needs to adopt a resolution giving its unqualified support for both the spirit and the letter of the code. Next, council needs to provide the training necessary to educate all county officeholders and employees about the code and how it applies to it and its employees. The county can do this through its own training resources.

Or, if requested by the county, the Public Integrity Commission will provide instructors and course materials. Finally, each county officeholder and employee should be required to sign an affidavit indicating that he or she has completed the course, understands the code and promises to abide by it.

In my opinion, this process of resolution, education, and commitment is the most comprehensive and cost-effective way to preserve the public’s confidence in its County government and its public servants. Why wait for November? Let’s do it now! One Republican councilman has already expressed his support for the idea.

If Councilperson Joan Deaver will support the proposal, it will be a truly bipartisan initiative, which is exactly the kind of cooperation that the people of the 5th District can expect from me when a good idea emerges. The issues are far too important to be left to partisan politics.

Bob Wheatley
Sussex County Council
District 5

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