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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

Codes of Ethics: Establishing the Foundation

The first four sections of the Code of Ethics should answer basic questions about the document: Why is it needed? What is meant by certain terms? Who does it apply to? What is the responsibility of the official or employee?

The purpose should clearly state that this document establishes reasonable standards of ethical conduct for the officers and employees of the municipality. It may also include a statement indicating why this ethical conduct is important.

Definitions need to be written for any term that can be interpreted in ways other than what is intended. Do terms like “officer” or “employee” pertain to only paid positions or to unpaid ones as well? For fire districts, what is the difference between an employee of the district and a member of the fire district’s fire department? Are members of administrative boards of a municipality (such as a zoning board) considered officers?

Three points are important to include in the applicability section:

  • The code applies to all officers and employees
  • It supersedes all prior codes of ethics
  • It applies in addition to all applicable State and local laws.

In addition, a fire district code of ethics should also State whether it applies to members of the district’s fire department.

  Next: Codes of Ethics: Use of the Public Position for Private Gain