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NYS Comptroller


The Academy for New York State's Local Officials

Protecting the Public’s Interest: A Tutorial on Local Government Ethics and Transparency in New York State

Module 2 - Codes of Ethics and Other Local Actions

Who is Required to Adopt a Code of Ethics

Article 18 requires the following municipalities to adopt a code of ethics:

  • Counties
  • Cities
  • Towns
  • Villages
  • School Districts
  • Fire Districts

Other entities may adopt a code of ethics but are not required to do so. However, unless each local government adopts and enforces a code of ethics, taxpayers have little assurance that local officials are serious about identifying conflicts of interest and making sure that official decisions are being made in the public interest.

A code of ethics for a municipality is adopted by the governing body of the municipality. Depending on the type of municipality, the governing body may adopt a code of ethics by local law, ordinance, or resolution.

As a rule, a code of ethics adopted by one municipality is not applicable to other municipalities. For example, a county’s code of ethics is not applicable to the cities, towns, villages, school districts and fire districts within the county’s borders. Each of these municipalities within a county needs to adopt its own code of ethics.

A code of ethics adopted by a municipality applies to all of the officers and employees of the municipality, whether paid or unpaid. A code of ethics adopted by a fire district must also apply to the volunteer members of the fire district’s fire department.

The chief executive officer of each municipality adopting code of ethics must cause a copy of the code to be distributed to each officer and employee of the municipality. Each employee is responsible for becoming knowledgeable about and complying with its provisions. A failure to distribute copies of the code, or the failure of a municipal officer or employee to receive a copy, has no effect on an individual’s duty to comply with the code or the enforceability of the code.

Let’s listen to what OSC senior attorney Mark Stevens has to say about codes of ethics.

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