Rules of Procedure and Operation

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ETHICAL PRACTICES BOARD

RULES OF PROCEDURE AND OPERATION

Enabling Legislation
Section 13.10, subd. 5(A) states that the Ethical Practices Board has the power to “establish, amend and repeal rules and procedures governing its own internal organization and operations in a manner and form consistent with this chapter.”  The Ethical Practices Board adopts these rules of procedure and operation pursuant to that legislative authority.

Policy and Purpose
It is imperative that all persons acting in the public service not only maintain the highest possible standards of ethical conduct in their transaction of public business but that such standards be clearly defined and known to the public as well as to the persons acting in public service.

The proper operation of a democratic government requires that public officials be independent, impartial, and responsible to the people. Governmental decisions and policies must be made in the proper channels of the governmental structure. Public office may not be used for personal gain. Citizens must have confidence in the integrity of their government officials.

Public officials are agents of public purpose and hold office for the benefit of the public. They are bound to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Minnesota, and to carry out impartially the laws of the nation, state and municipality so as to foster respect for all government. They are bound to observe in their official acts the highest standards of morality and to discharge faithfully the duties of their office regardless of personal considerations, recognizing that the public interest must be their primary concern.

In recognition of these goals, there is an established Code of Ethics for elected or appointed public officials, citizen volunteers, and candidates for public office. The purpose of the Code is to establish ethical standards of conduct for such persons by establishing acts which are incompatible with the City's best interests and requiring disclosure of private or financial interests in matters involving the City. The provisions and purposes of this Code of Ethics are declared to be in the best interests of the City of Rochester.

Ethical Practices Board
To further the goals of the established Code of Ethics, the City of Rochester Ethical Practices Board (Board) was formed via city ordinance in December 2008.  The Board is comprised of five citizen members who are appointed by a committee consisting of the President of Rochester Community and Technical College, the Chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester and the highest ranking officer of the Olmsted County Bar Association not associated with the Rochester City Attorney’s Office.  Members serve a three year term and may serve up to two consecutive terms.

Scope of Responsibility
The Code of Ethics pertains to and is applicable to public officials including elected officials and city employees (including department heads and supervisors) who have the authority to approve the expenditure of funds.  Also included, but not limited to, are members of the following boards and commissions:

  • Airport Commission
  • Building Code Board of Appeals
  • Citizens Advisory on Transit
  • Committee on Urban Design and Environment
  • Downtown Development District Advisory Board
  • Energy Commission
  • Ethical Practices Board
  • Fire Civil Service Commission
  • Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Board of Review
  • Heritage Preservation Commission
  • Housing Board of Appeals
  • International Affairs Committee
  • Library Board
  • Mayo Civic Center Commission
  • Music Board
  • Park Board
  • Planning and Zoning Commission
  • Police Civil Service
  • Police Policy Oversight Commission
  • Public Utility Board
  • Zoning Board of Appeals

Rules of Operation
In carrying out its duties, several responsibilities for the Board are specified in the ordinance.  Among these are the following.

  • The Board shall have jurisdiction to review and make findings concerning any alleged violation of RCO Chapter 13 by any public official.
  • To make notifications, extend deadlines, conduct investigations, make findings of fact, conclusions of law and order, review allegations and conduct hearings as needed to decide specific cases in which a violation of RCO Chapter 13 is alleged.
  • To report its findings regarding any complaint to the person’s Appointing Authority and to the City Administrator.
  • To issue ethics opinions to public officials regarding the propriety of any matter within the Board’s jurisdiction.
  • To conduct a preliminary investigation of a filed complaint, or of any circumstance or situation of which the Board may become aware that appears to violate any provision of RCO Chapter 13.
  • To cooperate with the human resources department in the design of ethics education seminars, and to promote the city's ethics program and high ethical standards in city government.
  • To make recommendations for changes to the Code of Ethics or the governing ordinance which the Board believes would enhance their purpose.

 Officers
The chair, vice chair, and secretary of the Board shall be elected by the membership from among its members.  The election shall occur at the first meeting after May 1st of each year.  Each person elected to an office shall serve until their successors have been elected.  If the chair should resign or otherwise be unable to serve out his or her term of elected office, the vice chair shall become the chair and the Board shall elect a new vice chair to serve until his or her successor is elected at the first meeting after May 1st.  If the vice chair or secretary should resign or otherwise be unable to serve out his or her term of elected office, the Board shall elect a new vice chair or secretary to serve until his or her successor is elected at the first meeting after May 1st.

Submitting Questions / Complaints & Process for Review

  1. Any person may file a complaint with the Board. Any person, either personally or on behalf of an organization or governmental body, may request the Board to issue an ethics opinion regarding the propriety of any matter within the Board’s jurisdiction.Any complaint or request for an ethics opinion must be in writing and signed by the person making the request.
     
  2. Beyond the general process for submitting queries or complaints, the ordinance specifically provides for the following situations.
  • A Public Official must report any conduct by another Public Official that he or she believes violates the Code of Ethics.
  • The improper conduct of a non-appointed Public Official must be reported to either the alleged violator's supervisor or department head.Upon resolution the supervisor or department head must notify the Board of the report and resolution.
  • The improper conduct of an appointed Public Official who is not a department head must be reported to the alleged violator's supervisor, department head or Appointing Authority.Upon resolution the supervisor or department head must notify the Board of the report and resolution.
  • The improper conduct of a department head or an elected official must be reported to the Board.

 Review Process
Upon receipt of a complaint or upon learning of any circumstance or situation that appears to violate any provision of RCO Chapter 13, the following steps will be taken.

 First, a copy of the complaint and any attachments to the complaint will be shared with the subject of the complaint.  The subject will be invited to respond in writing to the complaint and the attachments.  The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act gives the subject of the complaint the right to inspect the complaint and attachments.

 Second, the Board shall conduct a preliminary investigation of the complaint and will consider the subject’s response.  If, upon completion of that preliminary investigation, the Board determines there is no reasonable grounds to believe that a violation has occurred or that the complaint is frivolous, made in bad faith, brought for vexatious reasons or is filed principally for the purpose of harassment, it shall dismiss the complaint.  If the Board concludes that more investigation of the complaint is warranted, it shall take additional steps to gather additional information including the hiring of an outside investigator.

 Third, upon completion of that final investigation, if the Board determines there is no reasonable grounds to believe that a violation has occurred or that the complaint is frivolous, made in bad faith, brought for vexatious reasons or is filed principally for the purpose of harassment, it shall dismiss the complaint.  If the Board concludes that a formal hearing on the complaint is warranted, the Board shall conduct that hearing.  The hearing shall comply with the Minnesota Open Meetings Law as well as the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, and will give all interested parties the opportunity to be heard.  The chair of the Board may obtain subpoenas from the district court to compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of documents at any hearing.

 Finally, following completion of the hearing, the Board shall report its findings to the City Administrator and to the person’s Appointing Authority.  Upon distribution of its findings, the Board’s duties and responsibilities pertaining to the complaint will have come to an end.

 Sanctions
Except as provided elsewhere in city ordinances, a Public Official who violates the Code of Ethics may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of city employment/city volunteer duties.

An elected official or an appointed member of any board or commission, whose discipline is addressed by the City of Rochester Home Rule Charter or the Rochester Code of Ordinances and who violates the Code of Ethics may be subject to such disciplinary action as is provided by the Home Rule Charter or the Code of Ordinances.

It is not the Board’s responsibility to administer discipline against a city employee, volunteer, or elected official.  The Board is responsible only for the determination of whether a violation of the City’s Code of Ethics has occurred.  It is the responsibility of the city employee’s, city volunteer’s, and city elected official’s appointing authority to determine whether sanctions are warranted and, if so, to implement those sanctions.

 Confidentiality
The Board is bound by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (known as Minnesota’s Open Records Law) and the Minnesota Open Meetings Law. 

The Open Records Law states that, upon the filing of a formal complaint against a city employee, city volunteer, or city elected official, the name of the person mentioned in the complaint, the complaint’s existence, and the complaint’s status is public data.  All other data is private data and cannot be released to the public unless or until disciplinary action occurs.  However, the person named in the complaint is entitled to a copy of the complaint and any attachments to the complaint as the complaint constitutes “personnel data” under Minnesota Statutes, section 13.43.  What the person named in the complaint does with his or her data, including distributing it for all to see, is up to that person and is beyond the Board’s control.

Additionally, the Board’s meetings must comply with the Open Meetings Law.  The Board’s meetings will be publicly noticed and open to public attendance.  In order to protect the private data that might be discussed during the public meeting, and consistent with Open Meetings Law, the Board will make every attempt to not divulge the private data during the public meeting.

Meetings
The Board’s meeting agenda will include a time for public comment.  There is a 15-minute time limit for public comment.  Each speaker is limited to four minutes.