From the June 2001 Idaho Observer:

Pamphlet describes ethical conduct for public servants

By The Idaho Observer

Idaho Attorney General Al Lance's office produced a pamphlet in January, 1997, which describes the rights and responsibilities of public servants in their public capacities. The 31-page pamphlet is a handy tool for state employees who need to know what types of activities constitute unethical behavior for which they cannot expect prosecutorial immunity.

Lance, who has been the Idaho AG since 1994, wrote the introduction for the state publication. “Public officials, whether elected or appointed, are all servants of the people and of the peoples' government. They are not entrusted with public office in order to profit themselves, their friends or their families. Not only is this idea a fundamental premise of representative government, but in Idaho it is the law. Statutes governing the ethical behavior of public officers ensure that public officials remain servants,” wrote Lance.

Apparently there have been significant numbers of public servants behaving unethically enough to warrant the publication of this pamphlet and the passage of anti-public servant corruption acts.

The first section of the pamphlet is entitled “Relevant Statutes.” The section reproduces 18-1351-1362 of Idaho Code wherein the Bribary and Corrupt Influence Act is cited as state law. Section 1362 provides the parameters for cases of action to injured parties.

Another area of relevant statutes is found in 59-201-209 which describes prohibitions against public officials being party to certain types of contracts. Section 208 describes penalties of fines and imprisonment that can be attached to a public official found guilty of violating the provisions of the chapter.

The Ethics in Government Act of 1990, found in 59-702-705 states that, “It is hereby declared that the position of a public official at all levels of government is a public trust...” and that they must, among other noble things, endeavor to, “Assure that governmental functions and policies reflect, to the maximum extent possible, the public interest.”

The second section, entitled, “Questions and Answers” appears to be written for the benefit of public servants so that they can understand potential loopholes in laws designed to prevent them from using public office to their unethical advantage. Question 9 asks what a public official should do if a conflict of interest exists. If it is determined by legal counsel that a real or potential conflict exists... “generally, the public official must prepare a written statement describing the matter required to be acted upon and the nature of the potential conflict, and shall file such statement with the entity set forth in the statute pertaining to the appropriate elected or appointed office.

“Disclosure of the conflict or consultation with counsel satisfies the requirements of the Ethics in Government Act. It does not, however, permit the public official to engage in acts prohibited by other provisions of the Idaho Code,” concludes the answer to Question 9.

The Idaho Ethics in Government Manual, a very handy reference for both public servants and their civilian masters, can be obtained free of charge by calling: (208) 334-2400 or by writing: Alan G. Lance, Attorney General of Idaho, Statehouse, Boise, Idaho 83720-0010.

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