Changes Proposed to ICMA Code of Ethics Tenet 12 and the Guidelines

Members are encouraged to review the proposed Tenet and guidelines. Provide your feedback by August 15.

ARTICLE | Jul 29, 2014
Changes Proposed to Tenet 12 and the Guidelines

Access the survey here to provide your feedback. Please complete the survey online.

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Feedback period closes August 15.

In a continuing effort to ensure that the ICMA Code of Ethics is relevant to the profession, the ICMA Committee on Professional Conduct launched a structured review of Tenet 12 this year. 

Why focus on Tenet 12? This Tenet covers a broad range of common issues that are significant for professionals working in local government:  gifts, conflicts of interest, personal relationships, use of confidential information, outside employment, and endorsements. Because professionals encounter these issues on a regular basis and they can be complicated to address, this Tenet and the guidelines generate many requests to ICMA for ethics advice.  

Also, there has been no major review or revision of the Tenet and guidelines since initially drafted in 1972. 

The committee gathered feedback from members in discussions at regional summits, state meetings, and an online forum. The committee considered that feedback along with the issues raised by members in their inquiries to ICMA. The outcome is a series of recommendations to amend the Tenet language and update some guidelines. Note that the following guidelines will remain in the code unchanged: Personal Relationships, Private Employment, and Representation.

All members are invited to provide their feedback on the proposed changes before they are presented to the ICMA Executive Board for consideration in September. 

ICMA Committee on Professional Conduct Recommendations

Recommendation: Replace the current language in Tenet 12

Seek no favor; believe that personal aggrandizement or profit secured by confidential information or by misuse of public time is dishonest.

Which one of the following options do you prefer?

Option A: “Seek no favor. A member should not leverage his or her position for gain or benefit”
Option B: “Public office is a public trust. A member should not leverage his or her position for gain or benefit”

Below are the new proposed changes to the guidelines. For ease of reviewing, language to be deleted is noted with a line through the text and new language is bolded.


Guideline: GIFTS.

Members should not directly or indirectly solicit any gift or accept or receive any gift if it could be perceived that—whether it be money, services, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, promise, or any other form—under the following circumstances: (1) it could be reasonably inferred or expected that the gift was intended to influence them in the performance of their official duties; or (2) if the gift was intended to serve as a reward for any official action on their part.

It is important that the prohibition of unsolicited gifts be limited to circumstances related to improper influence. In de minimus situations, such as meal checks, some modest maximum dollar value should be determined by the member as a guideline. The guideline is not intended to isolate members from normal social practices where gifts among friends, associates, and relatives are appropriate for certain occasions.

Any gift offered to the member that could undermine the public confidence in the member should not be accepted. De minimus gifts may be accepted or received in circumstances that support the execution of the member's official duties or serve a legitimate business purpose. In those cases, the member should determine a modest maximum dollar value as a guideline.

Gifts may include - but are not limited to - money, services, loan, travel, meals, tickets, other entertainment or hospitality.

The guideline is not intended to apply to normal social practices, not associated with the member's official duties, where gifts are provided among friends, associates, and relatives.



Member should not invest or hold any investment, directly or indirectly, in any financial business, commercial, or other private transaction that creates any appearance of or the fact of a conflict with their official duties.

Members should refrain from any investment activity which would compromise their impartial and objective performance of their duties.

In the case of real estate, the potential use of confidential information and knowledge to further a member’s personal interest requires specialthoughtful consideration. This guideline recognizes that members’ official actions and decisions can be influenced if there is a conflict with personal investments or the investments of friends or family members. Purchases and sales which might be interpreted as speculation for quick profit ought to be avoided (see the guideline on “Confidential Information”) or at the very least be proactively disclosed to the governing body.

Because personal investments may prejudice or may appear to influence official actions and decisions, or create the appearance of impropriety, members may, in concert with their governing body, provide for disclosure and/or recusal of such investments prior to accepting their position as local government administrator or prior to any official action by the governing body that may affect such investments.

Notwithstanding the intent stipulated above, a member shall not be prohibited from having or acquiring an interest in, or deriving a benefit from any direct investment when the interest or benefit is due to ownership by the member of less than 0.5% of a financial business, commercial, or other private business which has a contract, work, or business with the municipality.



Members should must not disclose to others,  or use to advance further their personal interest, confidential or inside information including intellectual property, that has been acquired or retained by them in the course of their official duties.

For the avoidance of ambiguity, information that may be in the public domain or accessible via a Freedom of Information Act request, is not confidential.


icon_new Guideline: SOCIAL MEDIA.

To preserve impartiality and not compromise their objectivity, members should exercise discretion and common sense when using social media platforms to express their views and opinions, and refrain from postings that undermine the ethical principles of the Code of Ethics.



Members should not endorse commercial products or services or provide letters of recommendations for vendors competing in request for proposal, bid or other competitive processes by agreeing to use their photograph, endorsement, or quotation in paid or other commercial advertisements, collateral materials, or other documents whether the member or not for compensationis compensated or not for their support. Members may, however, provide professional references as part of the due diligence phase of competitive processes.

In addition, members may agree to endorse the following, provided they do not receive any compensation: (1) books or other publications; (2) professional development or educational services provided by nonprofit membership organizations or recognized educational institutions; (3) products and/or services in which the local government has a direct economic interest.

Members’ observations, opinions, and analyses of commercial products used or tested by their local governments are appropriate and useful to the profession when included as part of professional articles and reports. 


Members are encouraged to review the guidelines and provide their feedback to the committee by August 15. Feedback is being collected through a short survey that gives participants the opportunity to indicate their support or opposition to the proposal and to make comments. To access this feedback mechanism, click here. Members with questions can contact Martha Perego, ICMA director of ethics, at Thank you for taking the time to review the recommendations and providing your comments.


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