My View: Ethics resolution is a good first step

My View: Ethics resolution is a good first step
Allison Silberberg (Courtesy Photo)

By Mayor Allison Silberberg

Two quick updates. First, we had a little snowstorm recently. Okay, not so little since we got 22 inches of snow in about 36 hours, but who’s counting? It was in fact the worst storm since the Knickerbocker Storm of 1922, and we made it through without fatalities. It was inspiring to see how we pulled together and pulled through so well. I am proud of our hardworking city staff and how neighbors helped neighbors and strangers helped those in need. Thank you, one and all.

Second, over this past weekend, with a unanimous vote, city council passed a resolution regarding ethics and transparency. The council voted for a good step forward.

As Alexandrians know, I have been focused on ethics reform for the past year. It was one of the cornerstones of my campaign for mayor, and it was my first initiative as mayor. We should pursue this not because of a problematic situation, but because it is the right thing to do. And it should be only forward-looking.

Last fall, I spent a great deal of time with a brain trust of legal experts, thinking through all of the issues, and I spent time with community leaders. I developed and then shared my ethics initiative with my council colleagues right before the holidays. In discussions with them, I incorporated many of their ideas, and I worked on a final proposal with help from City Manager Mark Jinks, city attorney James Banks and experts in the field.

The core principles of my proposal included: an ethics pledge, a code of conduct and a study group to consider the establishment of an ethics advisory commission. The primary purpose of this commission would be to educate and advise those who are elected or appointed. It would help build more trust in government. The study group was to be appointed and apolitical with one nominee each from the Alexandria Bar Association, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Civic Associations, as well as one appointed by the city manager, four citizens appointed by the council and one citizen appointed by me to serve as the chair.

I invited five experts, most of whom are Alexandrians, to come forward during the first part of Saturday’s public hearing when citizens can speak on any topic for up to three minutes. With a few questions from the council, I assumed this would take 20 to 30 minutes. I was delighted to see my colleagues engage with these experts. I envisioned far more public dialogue going forward. I expected to reach out to the Bar, the chamber and the federation to hear their thoughts. In fact, I had discussed with the city manager that it was my intention to put it on the docket in the coming weeks. Public discussion had just begun.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and City Councilor John Chapman put forward a revised version of my resolution and called for a vote. Their version contains an ethics pledge, a code of conduct, and a study group to create those two things, among other proposals for transparency. Council unanimously approved the resolution with the Wilson-Chapman changes. While their proposal did not include a study group to consider an ethics advisory commission, it was a fine first step. I thank my council colleagues for joining me in this endeavor.

I believe that this is a golden opportunity for our beloved city to be a national leader in ethics and transparency. I will continue to work toward this goal while we work on the many other issues facing our city. I welcome your input.

The writer is the mayor of Alexandria.