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Cities Of Ethics

At-a-Glance

GMA's Cities of Ethics program is not in any way approval of past or present conduct by the city or any city official. Instead, it is an attempt to raise awareness about ethics issues at the local level and provide a local forum for the airing and resolution of legitimate concerns. The use of a local ethics ordinance allows citizens to raise their concerns and participate in the ethics investigation process at the local level, where the voice and influence of the individual citizen is strongest.
 

Submission Deadlines

Mayors' Day Conference (held January of each year)
Cities that would like their ordinance reviewed in time to be recognized during GMA's annual Mayors' Day Conference must submit all materials by November 30 of each year.

Annual Convention (held in June of each year) Cities that would like their ordinance reviewed in time to be recognized during GMA's Annual Convention must submit all materials by April 30 of each year.

 

Becoming a City of Ethics

To earn a "Certified City of Ethics" designation, a city must take two actions.

Adopt a resolution establishing the five ethics principles for the conduct of your city's officials.

These principles are designed to guide the elected officials as individuals and as a governing body. These principles are:
 
  • Serve others, not ourselves
  • Use resources with efficiency and economy
  • Treat all people fairly
  • Use the power of our position for the well being of our constituents
  • Create an environment of honesty, openness and integrity
The adopted resolution must include or at least reference the definitions of these principles. A sample resolution is available from GMA. A majority of the city’s elected governing body must sign the resolution.

Adopt an ethics ordinance that meets minimum standards approved by the GMA Board.

The ordinance must contain definitions, an enumeration of permissible and impermissible activities by elected officials, due process procedures for elected officials charged with a violation of the ordinance and punishment provisions for those elected officials found in violation of the ordinance.

City officials should consult GMA's Sample Ethics Ordinance (see link at right) when considering provisions to include in a comprehensive codes of ethics. This document is the most recent and most accurately reflects the types of provisions essential to a local ethics ordinance. For general guidance in facing ethical dilemmas on a day-to-day basis and on state ethics laws, see GMA's publication "Ethics in Government: Charting the Right Course."

Following their adoption, the resolution, ordinance and a $85 application fee (only for cities applying for the first time) should be mailed to:
 
Georgia Municipal Association
Attention: Gina Shirley
201 Pryor Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303

The resolution and ordinance will be forwarded to the GMA Ethics Certification Committee, which is comprised of the Executive Committee of the GMA City Attorneys Section, for their review. If this panel of attorneys determines that both items meet the established requirements, the city will be designated as a "Certified City of Ethics."
 

Recognition for Certified Cities of Ethics

Each city designated as a Certified City of Ethics will receive a plaque and a logo which can be incorporated into city stationery, road signs and other materials at the city's discretion. In addition, GMA will send press releases to the local media notifying them that the city has earned this designation.
How did the Cities of Ethics Program get its start?
GMA appointed an Ethics Task Force in 1998 to address concerns over a trend toward less confidence in public officials. The Ethics Task Force included municipal elected officials, community and industry leaders, and academics. The result of their work was the publication of a "Model Code of Ethics for Georgia City Officials" in September 1999 and the implementation of GMA's Certified Cities of Ethics program. Most recently, in February 2005, GMA completed an updated handbook that is a compilation of the "Model Code of Ethics" and a prior GMA publication, "Ethics in Government: Finding the Right Course," which was written in 1993. This publication is titled, "Ethics in Government: Charting the Right Course," and can be found on the GMA website.

In 2008 a new Ethics Task Force was appointed to evaluate the existing Certified Cities of Ethics program and make recommendations on ways to improve the program and ensure its effectiveness. In January 2009 the GMA Board adopted the recommendations of the Ethics Task Force and instituted a requirement of re-certification every four years and approved a new sample ordinance.

What is the purpose of the Cities of Ethics Program?
Certification under this program is a way to recognize cities that have adopted principles and procedures that offer guidance on ethical issues, along with a mechanism to resolve complaints at the local level. The program is not in any way an attempt to sanction past or present conduct by the city or any city official. Rather, it is an attempt to raise awareness about ethics issues at the local level and provide a local forum for the airing and resolution of legitimate concerns. The use of a local ethics ordinance allows citizens to raise their concerns and participate in the ethics investigation process at the local level, where the voice and influence of the individual citizen is strongest.

What is the process for becoming a City of Ethics?
Two steps are required prior to becoming a certified City of Ethics. First, the city and every member of its governing authority must adopt a resolution acknowledging and subscribing to five ethics principles to govern the conduct of elected officials. The ethics principals to be included in the resolution are:
  • Serve others, not ourselves 
  • Use resources with efficiency and economy 
  • Treat all people fairly 
  • Use the power of our position for the well being of our constituents 
  • Create an environment of honesty, openness and integrity
The adopted resolution must include or at least reference the definitions of these principles. A sample resolution is available on the GMA website. A majority of the city’s elected governing body must sign the resolution.
 
Second, cities must also adopt an ethics ordinance that meets minimum standards approved by the GMA Board. The ordinance must contain definitions, an enumeration of permissible and impermissible activities by elected officials, due process procedures for elected officials charged with a violation of the ordinance and punishment provisions for elected officials who have been found in violation of the ordinance.

Who decides whether a city has qualified to become a Certified City of Ethics?
GMA encourages all cities to apply for the City of Ethics program, but city officials should be aware that approval is not automatic. Ordinances and resolutions submitted by each city are reviewed by the GMA Ethics Certification Committee, which is comprised of the Executive Committee of the GMA City Attorneys' Section. This committee compares materials submitted by cities with the recommendations of the GMA Board. If this panel of attorneys determines that both the ordinance and resolution submitted by each city meet the established requirements, then the city's application for certification as a City of Ethics will be approved.

Once a city adopts an ethics ordinance and qualifies as a City of Ethics, does GMA enforce the ordinance?
No, GMA does not act as an enforcement or regulating agency. Ultimately, it is the local electorate that determines the acceptable level of ethical conduct by the character of those elected to and retained in office.

Is periodic recertification required to maintain the City of Ethics designation?
Beginning January 1, 2009 certification and re-certification will be good for four years. To remain a Certified City of Ethics, prior to the expiration of the four year period the organization must submit to GMA for review a resolution re-adopting the five ethics principles and a copy of any changes to the city's ethics ordinance.

Cities that have been certified for more than four years as of January 1, 2009 will be required to re-certify on schedule reflecting the order in which they were originally certified and thereafter they will be required to re-certify every four years.

GMA encourages each Certified City of Ethics to periodically train new and existing members of the city’s governing body on the ethics principles and the ethics requirements imposed on the city by federal, state and local law and ordinance.

What recognition do cities receive for achieving Cities of Ethics certification?
Each city designated as a Certified City of Ethics will receive a plaque and a logo which can be incorporated into city stationery, road signs and other materials at the city's discretion. In addition, GMA will send press releases to the local media notifying them that the city has earned this designation.

Which cities are already certified as Cities of Ethics?
There is a complete list of certified Cities of Ethics and Organizations available on the GMA website.

Is there also a Counties of Ethics program in Georgia?
Counties meeting GMA's criteria can be recognized as a Certified County of Ethics.

What role does the State Ethics Commission play in monitoring local government ethics violations?
The State Ethics Commission was created in 1987 and is responsible for enforcing Georgia's Ethics in Government Act. The Ethics Commission is governed by five members and is responsible for investigating, reporting on, and prosecuting violations of the Ethics in Government Act, as well as for maintaining and publishing annual reports on lobbyist spending and campaign financing. All state and local officials are required to comply with the provisions in the Act, including filing annual campaign financing disclosure statements. More information on the requirements of the Act can be found in GMA's publication “Ethics in Government: Charting the Right Course” and on the website of the State Ethics Commission.

Where can I find more information about ethics in local government?
For additional information about the Cities of Ethics program and local government ethics in general, city officials should consult GMA's publication, "Ethics in Government: Charting the Right Course." This publication can be printed directly from the GMA website. This is an excellent reference for city officials who are considering the process of developing and enacting comprehensive codes of ethics and in facing ethical dilemmas on a day-to-day basis.

GMA makes available on its website a sample ordinance as a starting point for cities in drafting their own ordinance. This ordinance cannot be adopted as drafted because it contains alternate provisions requiring that only one of them be selected. GMA's publication on ethics also contains sample language for use in ordinances and resolutions for the City of Ethics program. It should be noted that the sample ordinances and resolutions provided by GMA are meant to serve as a guideline only. Cities should always consult with their city attorney prior to enacting ethics ordinances. Careful consideration must be given to state laws that govern local officials and how they may interact with any proposed changes in the local law. Ethics ordinances that conflict with state laws and constitutional provisions will likely be declared invalid in a court of law.

Another excellent resource to reference when drafting an ethics ordinance is "Establishing, Following Ethics Rules Raises the Level of Trust" by Richard Carothers. Finally, in addition to the City of Ethics program, GMA also offers training on ethics through the Municipal Training Institute and at the Newly Elected Officials Institute.

Becoming a County of Ethics

To earn a "Certified County of Ethics" designation, a county must take two actions.

Adopt a resolution establishing the five ethics principles for the conduct of your county's officials.

These principles are designed to guide the elected officials as individuals and as a governing body. These principles are:
  • Serve others, not ourselves
  • Use resources with efficiency and economy
  • Treat all people fairly
  • Use the power of our position for the well being of our constituents
  • Create an environment of honesty, openness and integrity
The adopted resolution must include or at least reference the definitions of these principles. A sample resolution is available from GMA. A majority of the county's elected governing body must sign the resolution.

Adopt an ethics ordinance that meets minimum standards approved by the GMA Board.

The ordinance must contain definitions, an enumeration of permissible and impermissible activities by elected officials, due process procedures for elected officials charged with a violation of the ordinance and punishment provisions for those elected officials found in violation of the ordinance.

County officials should consult GMA's Sample Ethics Ordinance (see link at right) when considering provisions to include in a comprehensive codes of ethics. This document is the most recent and most accurately reflects the types of provisions essential to a local ethics ordinance. County officials may also consider reviewing Paulding County's ethics ordinance. For general guidance in facing ethical dilemmas on a day-to-day basis and on state ethics laws, see GMA's publication "Ethics in Government: Charting the Right Course." Following their adoption, the resolution, ordinance and a $85 appliation fee should be mailed to:
 
Georgia Municipal Association
Attention: Legal Department
201 Pryor Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303

The resolution and ordinance will be forwarded to the GMA Ethics Certification Committee, which is comprised of the Executive Committee of the GMA City Attorneys Section, for their review. If this panel of attorneys determines that both items meet the established requirements, the county will be designated as a "Certified County of Ethics."
 

Becoming a Organization of Ethics

Who Can be a Certified Organization of Ethics
Participation in this program is limited to organizations who have as their mission enhancing the quality of life, the provision of public services or economic development within their community. An organization must also be:
  • A public corporation or authority created under a general or local act of the Georgia General Assembly;
  • An authority or instrumentality of a Georgia local government;
  • Exempt from federal income taxation as a not for profit civic league or association under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and headquartered in Georgia; or
  • Exempt from federal income taxation as a not for profit business league or chamber of commerce under Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code and headquartered in Georgia.
GMA reserves the right to accept or reject any organization for participation in this program for any reason.

How to Become a Certified Organization of Ethics
To earn a "Certified Organization of Ethics" designation, an organization must adopt a resolution containing two elements:

(1) Establishing the five ethics principles for the conduct of your organization's officials. These principals are designed to guide the officials as individuals and as a governing body. These principals are:
 
  • Serve others, not ourselves. 
  • Use resources with efficiency and economy. 
  • Treat all people fairly. 
  • Use the power of our position for the well being of our constituents and our community as a whole.
  • Create an environment of honesty, openness and integrity.
The adopted resolution must include or at least reference the definitions of these principles. A sample resolution is available from GMA. A majority of the officials comprising the organization’s governing body are required to sign the resolution.

(2) Amending the organization’s by-laws to enact clear ethics provisions that meet minimum standards approved by the GMA Board. The resolution must contain definitions, an enumeration of permissible and impermissible activities by organization officials, due process procedures for officials charged with a violation of the ethics by-laws, punishment provisions for those officials found in violation of the ethics by-laws and an enforcement provisions.

GMA recommends that organizations review the GMA sample ethics ordinance when drafting their by-law amendment. A copy of this ordinance is available on the GMA website. Another helpful resource is the model ethics ordinance crafted by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA). Copies of this ordinance may be obtained by contacting the GMA Legal Department at (404) 688-0472.

To the extent that state or federal law impose additional ethical duties on an organization or its officials, these additional duties must be disclosed to GMA and referenced or incorporated into the organization’s by-laws.

Following adoption, the resolution establishing the ethics principles and amending the organization’s by-laws should be mailed to:
Georgia Municipal Association
Attention: Legal Department
201 Pryor Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
In addition to the resolution, the organization will be required to complete and submit a form explaining the organization’s mission and governing structure and identifying a contact person with the organization.
 
The resolution and completed form will be forwarded to the Ethics Certification Committee, which is comprised of the Executive Committee of the GMA City Attorneys Section, for their review. If this panel of attorneys determines that the organization and resolution meet the established requirements, the organization will be designated as a "Certified Organization of Ethics."
 
An appplication fee of $85 is also required.

Recognition for Certified Organizations of Ethics
Each organization designated as a Certified Organization of Ethics will receive a plaque and a logo which can be incorporated into organization stationery and other materials at the organization's discretion. In addition, GMA will send press releases to the local media notifying them that the organization has earned this designation.

Recertification
Beginning in January 1, 2009 certification and re-certification will be good for four years. To remain a Certified Organization of Ethics, prior to the expiration of the four year period the organization must submit to GMA for review a resolution re-adopting the five ethics principles and acknowledging that the members of the organization’s governing body have read and understand the organization’s ethics requirements in statute and in by-laws.

Organizations that have been certified for more than four years as of January 1, 2009 will be required to re-certify on schedule reflecting the order in which they were originally certified and thereafter they will be required to re-certify every four years.

GMA encourages each Certified Organization of Ethics to periodically train new and existing members of the organization’s governing body on the ethics principles and the ethics requirements imposed on the organization by law and through the organization’s by-laws.

Cities of Ethics

City of Acworth City of LaGrange
City of Adairsville City of Lake Park
City of Albany City of Lakeland
City of Alma City of Lavonia
City of Alpharetta City of Lawrenceville
City of Aragon City of Lenox
City of Arcade City of Lincolnton
City of Ashburn City of Lithonia
City of Atlanta City of Locust Grove
City of Attapulgus City of Loganville
City of Auburn City of Lovejoy
Augusta City of Luthersville
City of Austell Town of Lyerly
City of Avondale Estates Macon-Bibb County
City of Baconton City of Madison
City of Bainbridge City of Marshallville
City of Ball Ground Town of Maysville
City of Barnesville City of McDonough
City of Baxley City of McRae-Helena
City of Blackshear City of Meansville
City of Blairsville City of Metter
City of Blakely City of Midway
City of Bloomingdale City of Milledgeville
City of Blythe City of Millen
City of Bowdon City of Milner
Town of Braselton City of Milton
City of Bremen City of Monroe
City of Brookhaven City of Montezuma
Town of Brooklet City of Monticello
City of Brunswick City of Morrow
City of Buford City of Moultrie
City of Butler Town of Mount Airy
City of Byron City of Mount Vernon
City of Cairo City of Mountain Park
City of Calhoun City of Nashville
City of Camilla City of Nelson
City of Canton City of Newnan
Town of Carl City of Nicholson
City of Carnesville City of Oakwood
City of Cartersville City of Ocilla
City of Cave Spring City of Patterson
City of Cedartown City of Peachtree City
City of Centerville City of Peachtree Corners
City of Chamblee City of Pelham
City of Clarkston City of Pembroke
City of Clayton City of Perry
City of Cleveland City of Pine Lake
City of Cochran City of Port Wentworth
City of Colquitt Town of Portal
City of Columbus City of Powder Springs
City of Commerce City of Quitman
City of Cordele City of Ray City
City of Cornelia City of Reidsville
City of Covington City of Remerton
City of Cuthbert City of Reynolds
City of Dacula City of Riceboro
City of Dahlonega City of Richmond Hill
City of Dallas City of Ringgold
City of Dalton City of Roberta
City of Danielsville City of Rochelle
City of Dawsonville City of Rockmart
City of Decatur City of Rome
City of Dillard City of Roswell
City of Donalsonville City of Royston
City of Doraville Town of Sale City
City of Douglas City of Sandersville
City of Douglasville City of Sandy Springs
City of Dublin City of Savannah
City of Duluth City of Screven
City of Dunwoody City of Senoia
City of East Point Town of Sharpsburg
City of Eastman City of Sky Valley
City of Eatonton City of Snellville
City of Eton City of Social Circle
City of Euharlee City of South Fulton
City of Fairburn City of Springfield
City of Fayetteville City of St. Marys
City of Flemington City of Statesboro
City of Flovilla City of Statham
City of Flowery Branch City of Stockbridge
City of Folkston City of Stone Mountain
City of Forsyth City of Sugar Hill
City of Fort Oglethorpe City of Summerville
City of Fort Valley City of Suwanee
City of Gainesville City of Swainsboro
City of Garden City City of Sylvania
City of Glennville City of Sylvester
Town of Good Hope City of Tallapoosa
City of Gordon City of Talmo
City of Grantville City of Thomaston
City of Grayson City of Thomson
City of Greensboro Town of Thunderbolt
City of Griffin City of Tifton
City of Grovetown Town of Tiger
City of Guyton City of Toccoa
City of Hahira Town of Trion
City of Hamilton Town of Turin
City of Hampton City of Tybee Island
City of Hapeville City of Union City
City of Haralson City of Union Point
City of Harlem City of Valdosta
City of Hartwell City of Varnell
City of Hawkinsville City of Vidalia
City of Hazlehurst City of Vienna
City of Helen City of Villa Rica
City of Hiawassee City of Wadley
City of Higgston City of Waleska
City of Hinesville City of Walnut Grove
City of Hiram City of Walthourville
City of Holly Springs City of Warm Springs
City of Homeland City of Washington
City of Homerville Town of Waverly Hall
City of Hoschton City of Waycross
City of Jackson City of Waynesboro
City of Jefferson City of Winder
City of Jenkinsburg City of Winterville
City of Jesup City of Woodbury
City of Johns Creek City of Woodstock
City of Jonesboro City of Young Harris
City of Kennesaw City of Zebulon
City of Kingsland

Counties of Ethics

Cobb County Paulding County
Jackson County

Organizations of Ethics

Buckhead Coalition, Inc. Georgia Mountains Regional Commission
Central Savannah River Area Regional Commission Northwest Georgia Regional Commission
Central Valdosta Development Authority Southern Georgia Regional Commission
Cobb Travel & Tourism Southwest Georgia Regional Commission
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For more information about the City of Ethics prorgam, you may contact: