Langley’s latest commission has been given an interesting task: To propose to the city council a code of ethical conduct for anyone who works for the city, either elected, appointed or hired.
It seems on the face of it a hopeless undertaking for a dozen volunteers. Anyone who has half-dozed through a college philosophy class knows “ethical” could take endless hours of discussion just to define. And then there’s the question of what comprises “conduct.” Such deep thoughts and the people needed to help young minds explore them explain in part why college tuition is out of reach for the average American student. They graduate up to their eyeballs in debt and unable to do anything practical, let alone ethical.
The desire for a code of ethics in Langley is founded in controversy surrounding former mayors. Paul Samuelson’s relatively high salary approved by the council sparked controversy, as well as questionable conduct by some of those involved. More seriously, Larry Kwarsick ran afoul of the law by changing the conditions of a relative’s building permit when he was city planner. Both paid a price. Samuelson left city government with goals unfulfilled and perhaps embittered, while Kwarsick emerged from our legal system unable to ever again hold public office.
Langley had a code of conduct during those years, but it was insufficient, at least in the eyes of Hal Seligson, who served as interim mayor for a while. The extended code of ethics was his proposal, seconded by the newly appointed mayor, Fred McCarthy.
Whether the Hammurabi Code, Napoleonic Code or a future Seligson Code, unethical people have always been able go get around any code, so keep it simple. A complex code simply provides more work for lawyers. So the shorter the better. “Do it in public” fits on a bumper sticker, for example and gets the job done.
The commission is starting on the right note by doing it in public, Tuesday, May 21, at 7 p.m. at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall. Be there, if only to tell them when they’re getting too complicated.