Right thing to do, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke says of new ethics rules

Right thing to do, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke says of new ethics rules

February 5th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

A new ethics code issued by Mayor Andy Berke puts city administrators and anyone appointed by the mayor to a city board or agency on notice that any behavior that reflects negatively on the city will not be tolerated.

The executive order issued Tuesday afternoon goes into effect immediately, broadening the city's ethics ordinance to include five additional rules that must be followed or risk action from a newly appointed ethics committee.

Previously they were governed by the same ethics rules as every city employee and including not to accept gifts, personally gain from employment and to disclose any personal interests.

The broadened interpretation means anyone impeding government efficiency or by their actions jeopardizing the public's confidence in the city's integrity faces discipline.

"This ethics ordinance was intended to say 'everyone in government take notice,'" Berke said Tuesday.

The mayor said there was no particular reason he decided to update the code, except he thought it was the right thing to do.

But at least one councilman was surprised by the executive order. Councilman Larry Grohn said the City Council has been working on its own revision ever since Councilman Chris Anderson was accused of an ethics violation late last year.

"I don't understand ... why it needed to be done [that way]," Grohn, said about the executive order.

City Attorney Wade Hinton said he's been working with the mayor and the City Council to update the code. A city ordinance introduced next week will address the code, while Berke's executive order relates only to city employees and his appointed boards.

In November, a local activist opposed to Anderson's ordinance to extend benefits to city employees in domestic partnerships, filed an ethics complaint against the councilman.

The complaint alleged that Anderson stood to profit from the ordinance because he is gay and the measure could benefit a future partner. Charles Wysong argued that Anderson should have to recuse himself from voting on the ordinance. The measure has since been approved by the council, then challenged. Voters will be asked to decide the issue in an upcoming election.

An outside firm hired by the city determined that the complaint against Anderson was unfounded.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.