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Ross passes strict ethics rules for employees, elected and appointed officials

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A new code of ethics adopted this week for Ross Township’s employees and elected and appointed officials contains nearly seven pages of detail on how they should conduct themselves.

But the intent of the new law can be summed up in a few words — working for or representing the municipality is not supposed to be self serving.

The code of ethics adopted at the Sept. 17 meeting places strict rules on the use of township positions for personal gain by, among other things, forbidding employees and elected or appointed officials from:

  • Doing business with the township.
  • Participating in the awarding of contracts in which they have a financial or personal interest.
  • Representing someone in a matter if a conflict of interest exists.
  • Being paid or receiving any compensation from the township for goods and services.
  • Soliciting or accepting gifts, loans or anything of value from anybody seeking to do business or who has a financial relationship with the township.
  • Using information the township possesses for personal gain.
  • Using township owned equipment, supplies and property.
  • Performing outside work other than their regular jobs without approval from the township manager.
  • Accepting honoraria, speaking fees or any other item of value unless they are donated to charity or a non-profit organization.
  • Asking employees for donations or to perform political work such as campaigning and fundraising.
  • Engaging in political activity during work hours.

Excluded from the rule about receiving gifts are items of minimal value, which was set at a total of $500 per year for employees and $25 “per transaction” for elected and appointed officials with a cap of $500 a year.

Also excluded are gifts from friends or close relatives when it is clear the item is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than the position of the employee or official.

Commission President Steve Korbel,who drafted the ordinance, said it was done in response to actions by employees and officials that have “been happening for years and has continued until now.”

Commissioner Grace Stanko, who along with Commissioner Rick Avon voted against the ordinance, said she did not support the measure because it only applied to non-union employees.

“I think it’s discrimination for six people (non-union department heads) to have one set of rules, and 85 (union) employees to have another set,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair that people under them (department heads) have less restrictions than they do. It’s not the right thing to do for our employees.”

By law, the township cannot impose the law on union employees without making it part of their contract, said board President Steve Korbel.

Following the meeting, Korbel said he plans to ask the unions to voluntarily comply with the measure until it is included in their contracts.

“I think it’s a reasonable request for them to consider,” he said.

The new ethics law will apply to all current employees and officials for two years after they no longer work for or represent the township, which is a change from an earlier draft of the ordinance.

That version of the law would have applied to any former employee or official who ended their working relationship with the township during the past two years.

A review of the law by township solicitor P.J. Murray determined that because the ordinance contains criminal penalties for violating its provisions, the municipality cannot legally apply it retroactively.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368 or [email protected] or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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