The Alexandria City Council agreed Tuesday night to what it described as a code of ethics and conduct that is “aspirational in nature,” without legal penalty.
The measure, passed by a unanimous vote, requires a once-per-term public pledge to act ethically and a public conversation, dialogue or seminar on ethics every three years.
Their action thwarted first-term Mayor Allison Silberberg’s wider initiative from earlier this year, which went far beyond what the council was willing to do.
Silberberg said Wednesday that the passage was “a great start. . . . We will be instilling a culture of ethics in everything we do.”
Silberberg (D) originally wanted to set up an ethics advisory commission to handle citizens’ complaints and impose a state-level audit of the personal financial disclosures that elected officials in the city are required to make.
Such actions, she argued, would make the city a national leader in government ethics.
Council members quickly scaled back Silberberg’s effort, which stemmed from an electoral feud over ethics she had with then-Mayor William D. Euille (D).
At the time, council member Tim Lovain (D) warned that Silberberg’s proposal would create a “Committee on Un-Alexandrian Activities.” Vice Mayor Justin Wilson (D) argued that the city leaders had already taken significant steps to be ethical and transparent.
Silberberg defeated Euille, a five-term incumbent, in last spring’s three-way Democratic primary, and triumphed again when he launched a write-in campaign in the general election last fall.
The new mayor, who previously had served as vice mayor, proposed the creation of an ethics commission as her first major legislative effort in January.
In its vote Tuesday, the all-Democratic council excluded appointed officials from its new pledge and code of conduct. They also tussled over the downsides of avoiding “the appearance of a conflict of interest,” saying that what appears to be a conflict to partisans on one side of a debate may not actually be a conflict in the eyes of the council member.
Silberberg attempted to delay the vote until the council had a formal public hearing, but council members said they have received much feedback from residents in the past five months.
In the code they adopted, council members commit to being “conscientious, diligent and transparent . . . avoiding any improper use or influence of the office . . . behave in a manner that inspires public confidence . . . [and treat others] with professionalism, courtesy and respect.”
Their annual pledge also promises they will “communicate openly and civilly . . . being respectful even in areas of disagreement.”