AB1234. Mandatory “ethics” training for elected and appointed officials

The city of San Juan Capistrano is offering two sessions on “ethics” training tomorrow. After being denied access, in that I am not an elected official, I went on line and just completed the “free” two hour on-line course which, based on AB 1234, is mandatory for “all elected or appointed officials who are compensated for their service or reimbursed for their expenses.”

11:20 a.m. UPDATE: Omar Sandoval, city attorney of the city of San Juan Capistrano just called to clarrify their position on my attending their training session. While “I will not be permitted to take the class,” I can listen in and be an observer which is all I wanted to do.  I informed him that I concluded the class on-line this morning.

As we are often critical of our elected officials it is valuable to know what the FPPC and our Attorney General have to say about the fine line of decision making by our city, county and state officials.

Anyone can take the test by simply going to the following link and create a (new) account. You do not have to be an elected official to participate:


“On October 7, 2005, the governor signed Assembly Bill No. 1234 into law. Effective January 1, 2006, AB 1234 requires (among other things) that local officials who receive compensation, salary, stipends, or expense reimbursements must receive training in public service ethics laws and principles by December 31, 2006. The requirement applies not only to the governing body of a local agency but also to commissions, committees, boards, or other local agency bodies, whether permanent or temporary, decision-making or advisory. Training must be renewed every two years.

Information and resources have been established by the Office of the Attorney General. On-line training is supplied by the Attorney General and the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).”

As explained in the online course provided by the FPPC, ethics law falls into four categories, each of which relate to certain ethical principles:

·        Personal financial gain.

·        Personal advantages and perks.

·        Governmental transparency.

·        Fair processes.

The objectives of the FPPC course are:

·        To familiarize you with laws that governs your service.

·        To help you recognize when to ask questions of your agency counsel.

·        To encourage you to think beyond legal restrictions and provide tools for doing so.

·        To help you comply with the state mandatory ethics education requirements.

Among the best practices recommended by the FPPC are:

·        Make all decisions with only the public’s interests in mind.

·        Before you make a decision, carefully consider whether you have a benefit or personal interest in the matter under consideration.

·        Consider very carefully whether receiving a particular benefit is worth the risk that someone will try to correlate it with your actions as a decision-maker.

·        Assume all information is public or will become public.

·        Don’t discuss agency business with fellow board members outside meetings.

·        Be aware of the kinds of economic interests that can trigger a need to step aside from being involved in a decision.

·        Talk with your agency counsel early on to enable him or her to perform the complex analysis required to help you determine whether you will need to step aside from participating in a decision.

·        Avoid the temptation to look at public service as an opportunity for financial gain.

·        Look at every decision and ask yourself whether it involves a financial interest for you.

·        Comply with legal reporting requirements on your Statement of Economic Interests (threshold: anything $50 or more from a single source over a calendar year).

·        Avoid exceeding the annual gift limit of $360.

·        Know when you need to disqualify yourself in matters involving a person who has given you $360 in gifts over the preceding 12 months.

·        Know what kinds of gifts are prohibited, not just limited.

·        Ask the value of all gifts so you can track and properly report them.

·        Avoid perks and the temptation to rationalize about them.

·        Be guided by principles of fairness and merit-based decision-making in contracting decisions.

Some examples. What does it mean for a public official to be “trustworthy” as a public official? Here are some thoughts:

Remember that your role is first and foremost to serve the community.
Be truthful with fellow elected officials, the public and others-even when it involves speaking hard or unwelcome truths.
Avoid any action that would cause the public to question whether your decisions are based on personal interests instead of the public’s interests.
Do not accept gifts or other special considerations.
Do not use your position for personal gain.

Another example. The law also protects the public’s trust in the decision-making process by making public officials step aside from the decision-making process if a decision would have a monetary impact on any for-profit business where the public official is employed or holds a management position.

Avoid the temptation to look at public service as an opportunity for financial gain.
Look at every decision and ask yourself whether it involves a financial interest for you. Imagine how the relationship of your financial interests and your decision as a public official could be portrayed by detractors or the media. Would it diminish public trust that your actions are motivated solely by the public’s interests?

Another nugget. The open meeting laws also allow the public to criticize elected or appointed officials as well as staff concerning the performance of their official duties.

“Remember the law is a floor, not a ceiling, for public service ethics.”

I encourage every candidate, activist or citizen to take the “free” on-line training. There are many more nugget’s in the class that I shall not share in this post.

About Larry Gilbert