In the past month, two Parks & Recreation Employees have been charged with stealing materials and equipment from the Parks & Recreation Department. This entry is not about the specifics of those cases.
Rather, I am writing today about how those cases relate to the critical and fragile trust between the City and the community we serve. Whenever I learn that a public employee anywhere (not just in Ashland) has stolen from their employer, I feel betrayed. Theft from a government is not theft from that agency. It is theft from citizens and taxpayers – the very people we work for.
As a student of history, I know that in the early 20th century, widespread corruption in government lead to many of the laws that govern public employee ethics today. Oregon was a leader in the reforms of the Progressive Era. Our state has some of the strictest laws in the country to ensure public officials – elected or employed – don’t receive personal financial gain by virtue of their public office.
In Ashland, we have raised the ethical bar even higher with Ashland Municipal Code 3.08. That code reminds us that the public interest is the primary concern of public officials. But it goes further. This section of code specifically states that public officials cannot use City owned property for personal use unless it is available to all members of the public. In other words, borrowing city equipment to use at home is more than unethical. It’s illegal.
City employees are public servants. Many of us have chosen our careers because it allows us to improve life for other people. From electricity, water. sewer, and transportation to police and fire protection to quality development, the community depends on us for basic needs, for protection, and for a good quality of life. At the City of Ashland, we also know that we have a passionate, involved citizenry who participate in the community. We know people are watching.
The City regularly conducts ethics training for our employees, but in the next few weeks we’ll be doing a refresher training to make sure every employee knows about the obligations they have under State and Ashland laws. In addition, we will investigate every allegation of wrong doing by City employees. The citizens of Ashland should be able to count on their employees to do the right thing at all times, and we will not take that important trust for granted.
I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.