In November 2003, Illinois legislators passed the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, which required all of the state’s many local governments to adopt an ethics ordinance.
The city of McHenry was among those that complied, in 2004 passing an ethics ordinance designed to ensure that its employees and elected officials refrain from using public resources for political activities, or from accepting improper gifts. The ordinance, Sec. 2-55 of city code, also requires the mayor to appoint an ethics adviser and a three-person ethics commission to review complaints.
City officials have not lived up to this requirement.
Although the ordinance says that the mayor “shall designate an Ethics Advisor for the City,” with the consent of the council, one has not been appointed by Mayor Wayne Jett. Nor is there a standing ethics commission.
In light of recent events, we recommend that the city follow its own ordinance, appoint people to those positions, and ensure employees are aware of the ethical requirements of their respective positions.
On Tuesday, Jett sent an “e-blast” – a mass email – urging people to vote for James Walsh, who is challenging longtime Ward 2 Alderman Andy Glab.
“... if we want to continue moving forward, I need someone who brings fresh ideas, energy and trust to our team,” the email, signed “Mayor Wayne Jett” read.
The email came from Jett’s official city email address and bore all the hallmarks of an official communiqué from city hall – its address and phone number, a link to the city’s website.
The city’s “Code of Ethics” ordinance explicitly forbids the use of city resources – like an email list and an official email account – in campaigning. Jett’s excuse that he “didn’t click the right button” is unsatisfying, even if true, and even if he sent the email from a personal rather than public computer.
Many people received the email, and at least one person must have contacted him concerned about its propriety. Hours later, Jett sent an email called “My apologies” for the error, claiming he didn’t mean to send it from his city account.
The ethics act says that violations are a misdemeanor punishable by fines and possible jail time. That would seem extreme in this case.
However, the city should use this as an opportunity to bring its elected officers and employees up to speed on requirements of the ethics ordinance – and to appoint the people that its own ordinance requires.
Clear ethics laws are important for public faith in government. They should not be treated as optional, and violations should not be shrugged off.