Ethics can be defined based on three characteristics: values and principles, behavior and consequences, and right and wrong (Menzel, 2011). Values and principles are the beginning of all ethical decisions. Neither an organization nor an individual could possibly make an ethical decision without first considering what they place value on. Values mean nothing until reflected in action, however. It is through an organization’s actions, and the consequences of those actions, that we see what the organization actually values. Finally, and possible most significant, is whether an action is right or wrong. An organization could perform an action that enhances a core value, but that action could still be considered wrong and unethical. The Denhardt text gives the example of lying to a legislator to carry out a policy you believe is correct (Denhardt, Denhardt and Blanc, 2013). As we see, ethics in public administration is seldom black and white, making creating a code of ethics difficult even for organizations with similar goals and values.
Consider the American Society for Public Administration’s (ASPA) and International City/County Management Association’s (ICMA) codes of ethics. They are both laid out based on principles (APSA) and tenets (ICMA), with many overlaps to be found. However, for every similarity in their codes of ethics there are differences.
Principle 5 of the ASPA’s code of ethics and Tenet 5 of the ICMA’s both state that public administrators are obligated to provide facts and honest advice to policy makers and government officials. Also, both the ASPA (Principle 8) and ICMA (Tenet 8) seek to enhance public administrators’ professionalism by providing various resources, such as publications and networking events. Furthermore, both organizations stress being transparent and keeping the public informed of all activities of government (ASPA’s Principle 3 and ICMA’s Tenet 9).
These organizations’ codes of ethics differ in general and specific ways. The ICMA’s code of ethic provides more tenets than the ASPA’s and multiple guidelines associated with each tenet to further specify how members should behave. Also, the ICMA requires “members agree to submit to a peer-to-peer review under established enforcement procedures should there be an allegation of unethical conduct” (ICMA, 2013). Although, the ASPA emphasizes that members must “adhere to the highest standards of conduct,” they do not make detailed requirements in the code of ethics (ASPA, 2013). Furthermore, both organizations recognize the purpose of government is to serve the public, but the ASPA also recognizes affirmative action as a tool to “reduce unfairness, injustice, and inequality in society” (ASPA, 2013). After speaking with Charles Fall about how he built a relationship with Staten Island and New York City’s Muslim community, I realized a code of ethics in public administration is a necessity. Although, the de Blasio administration is new, it inherited a deep mistrust from the previous administration. As Staten Island’s Borough Director and the Citywide Islamic Liason, Fall had a lot of burned bridges between administration and the community that