Regrets – Time Wasted

Next week there is a political hijacking of the Ethics Board against Chuck Condor. The complaint alleges a criminal offense, and clearly, there is no conviction, and based on the Ethics Code, this complaint must be dismissed on the surface. I regret and apologize for failing to bring true oversight to the City of Riverside and believe that facet of Ethics Oversight is worse then none at all.

However, more disturbing is that the proposed Chair, by any moral or ethical standard, should have recused herself not only as Chair but from the hearing panel and even the Ethics Board.

Allow me to regress. During my tenure on the Ethics Board and specifically as Chair, it became apparent to the Board and City Staff that through hearings, meetings, and citizen complaints, this member was radically unqualified to sin on the Board. During hearings and meetings, she often became confused, disorientated and would hackle inappropriately. She would become confused by simple technology even after months and months or repetitive use and training. When called on to vote in hearings, meetings, and even the joint meeting between the council and board, she would get flustered, disorientated, and forget the question.

This is not simply my opinion. This issue was brought forward by the public, the City Clerk’s Office as well as City Attorney. After she chaired a hearing, we addressed her inability to stay on task, stay focused, be appropriate in her statements and behavior and even listen and not sit her cat on her desk and play. Sadly the ethics code does not allow for an independent board, and we lacked the authority to remove her from the board. She had said she would resign and apply for an alternative commission. This did not occur and causes irreversible damage to our City’s ability to have oversight.

The reason I bring this up now? Since I termed off the board, it has been brought to my attention that, worse, this individual is a partisan, an operative who failed to disclose her biased and prejudices while sitting on the board and hearing panels. After I suggested reforms to the code (which was delayed until I termed off), this individual began a calculated scheme to neuter the board and eliminate any independence or oversight. Any standard would demand that a political party operative who supports certain council members and radically opposes any differing view cannot balance facts. Worse, based on the documented (view any recordings of meetings and hearings) irrational behavior and inability to focus, the long-term negative effects will eventually dilute if not eliminate, the citizen oversight process. The hijacking of the Ethics process for political reasons is a huge threat, and when it is done internally, it is unscrupulous.

For the record, here are the reforms and ideas I presented to the City Council to which this member objected:

Polls suggest that, fairly or unfairly, the public has serious reservations about the ethics of public officials. How can local officials demonstrate that they (and their agency) are different from this perception?

The first step, of course, is to be different. The process of adopting and implementing a values-based ethics code can help. In a review of the ethics process since I wrote a letter pointing out the need for change, I saw the recommendations of the Ethics Review Committee were diluted to protect the council over the interests of the public, and every change since that time has been to accommodate the motivation of the council, not the public at large.

We MUST address the fact that the City of Riverside is uniquely different from EVERY City we reviewed in providing true citizen oversight. Even the independent council – hired by the City Attorney found severe flaws in respect to due process. These anomalies must be addressed or we should simply eliminate the Board of Ethics. We must be transparent; we must be independent, we must provide a forum for the citizens (the employers) to have true oversight over their city.

Public Discussion. It helps by involving citizens in an open discussion on which ethical values are most important for the City of Riverside.

Commitment. The code that evolves from these discussions will represent the City of Riverside’s commitment to conform its conduct to the code.

Implementation and More Discussion. The implementation process in which the code is disseminated, referred to, and discussed is an opportunity to further reflect on ethical values. It is also an opportunity to incorporate those values in the City of Riverside’s everyday activities. The standard must be more towards transparency and oversight instead of the Council’s protection.

Review and Update. The annual review process is an opportunity to refine the code and ensure that it continues to reflect the sensibilities of the City of Riverside and the community the Council serves. Discussion must be ongoing and dynamic, making changes and adjustments as needed, directly to the Council in public view.

Make no mistake about it: achieving these benefits requires a commitment of both time and energy by the citizens and the Board of Ethics. The task is not simply to adopt a code. The task is to build a culture – from the top down – that demonstrates ethics are important. Building a culture is an arduous task.

“The ultimate answer to ethical problems in government is honest people in a good ethical environment. No web of statute or regulation, however intricately conceived, can hope to deal with the myriad possible challenges to a person’s integrity or his devotion to the public interest.”

John F. Kennedy, Message to Congress on April 27, 1961


An ethics code is a framework for day-to-day actions and decision-making by officeholders and, the way the City of Riverside operates. The fundamental premise of an ethics code is that it is easier for people to do the right thing when they know what it is.


  1. Encouraging high standards of behavior by public officials;
  2. Increasing public confidence in the institutions that serve the public; and
  3. Assisting public officials with decision-making.


What happens when someone disregards the values expressed in the City of Riverside ethics code? This question comes up all the time, with the underlying question being, “what is the point of having an ethics code if we are not going to enforce it?”

As it relates to elected officials’ behavior, the voters are the ultimate enforcers of the code. This is why it is so important that the code reflects community values. There are various ways to think about accountability and enforcement issues. However, the City of Riverside’s current code falls short in due process, accountability and enforcement.

Is adopting an ethics code changing the community’s perception of the City of Riverside officials overnight? No. But the process of adopting and implementing an ethics code should be formatted to provide certain benefits. Among them is the opportunity to commit to ethical values in public service. Another is meeting the public’s expectations regarding how the City of Riverside’s elected and appointed officials should behave.

To achieve these benefits, the City of Riverside needs to do more than simply adopt an ethics code. The City of Riverside must commit to meeting best practices to align with the Ethics Code and enforcement that places the public’s interest above that of the elected and appointed officials. The City of Riverside must make a concerted effort to reflect on the ethical values that should inform a public official’s behavior. It must then assiduously put these values into action. The City of Riverside must allow for public oversight and an open and transparent process.

An ethics code is not a “silver bullet” solution to ethics issues for the City of Riverside. But, by committing to both a process of developing and implementing a values-based ethics code, an agency and its officials can be better prepared for challenges they may face.

There is also a synergy when The City of Riverside makes this commitment and adopts a code and empowers an independent citizen’s oversight Board of Ethics to enforce the code.

If the City of Riverside actually adopts and genuinely implements such values-based ethics codes, it will provide empirical support for the proposition that many believe to be true – that local government is the most responsive, ethical, and accountable level of government.

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