[HISTORY: Adopted by the Board of Supervisors of Adams County 6-20-2017 by Ord. No. 20-2017. Amendments noted where applicable.]
Editor’s Note: This ordinance also repealed former Ch. 34, Ethics, adopted 12-20-2011 by Ord. No. 22-2011, as amended.
Adams County (hereinafter "Adams County" or "County") enacts this ethics ordinance pursuant to the authority of § 19.59(1m), Wis. Stats.
The purpose of this chapter is to establish ethical standards of conduct for all Adams County officials and employees by identifying those actions that are not compatible with the best interests of the County. The County Board believes that a code of ethics for the guidance of County officials and employees in serving the County will help officials and employees avoid conflicts between personal interests and public responsibilities, will improve standards of public service and will promote and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of Adams County in their officials and employees. To this end, the policy of the County is that:
Officials and employees are independent, impartial and responsible to the people;
Government decisions and policy are promulgated in the best interest of the people, community and government;
County office or employment should not be used for personal gain or political advantage; and
County business is conducted so as to protect to the fullest extent possible the rights of individuals affected (§ 19.41(2), Wis. Stats.), and to reinforce the public's confidence in the integrity of County government.
As used in this chapter, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
- ANYTHING OF SIGNIFICANT VALUE
- (§ 19.59, Wis. Stats.) Includes any money, property, favor, service, payment, advance, forbearance, loan or promise of future employment. "Anything of significant value" does not include door prizes, compensation and expenses paid by the County, fees and expenses which are permitted by Wisconsin Statutes, political contributions which are reported under Chapter 11, Wis. Stats., or hospitality extended for a purpose unrelated to County business by a person other than an organization.
- ANYTHING OF INSIGNIFICANT VALUE
- Includes unsolicited advertising or promotional materials such as pens, pencils, notepads, calendars, informational or educational materials of insignificant value, (an item from a vendor that costs less than $25 on a one-time basis, but not more than $50 worth of items in a calendar year from a vendor), plaques, other advertising giveaways or any other thing which is not likely to influence the judgment of individuals covered by this chapter.
- (§ 19.42(2), Wis. Stats.) When used in reference to an organization, includes any organization in which an individual or a member of his/her immediate family is a director, officer, or trustee, or who has a significant fiduciary relationship (§ 19.59(1)(g)(8), Wis. Stats.) or an individual who owns or controls, directly or indirectly, and severally or in the aggregate, at least 10% of the outstanding equity.
- CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
- Written material or oral information related to County government that is not otherwise subject to the Open Records Law and that is designated by statute, court decision, lawful order, ordinances, resolutions or custom as confidential.
- All agreements executed between the County or a subunit thereof and another party or parties, for the provision of goods, materials, supplies, construction or services in exchange for valuable and sufficient consideration.
- (§ 19.31(1bg), Wis. Stats.) Any person employed by the County as defined in the Adams County Employment Policy and Adams County Employee Handbook, and who are not otherwise included in the definition of "official."
- FINANCIAL OR ECONOMIC INTEREST
- (§ 19.44, Wis. Stats.) Any interest which yields, directly or indirectly, a monetary or other material benefit to the official or employee, or to any person employing or retaining services of the official or employee. It does not include a monetary or material benefit which benefits all citizens in the same manner.
- IMMEDIMATE FAMILY
- (§ 19.59(2), Wis. Stats.) An official's or employee's spouse, children, stepchildren, parents, grandparents and stepparents; or other legal relation who contributes more than 1/2 of the support to the official or employee, or receives that level of support from the official or employee, or lives in the official's or employee's residence.
- (§ 19.32(1bd), Wis. Stats.) Includes all County elected officials and appointed members of policymaking boards, boards and commissions.
- (§ 19.44(1)(b), Wis. Stats.) Any stock or nonstock corporation, partnership, proprietorship, firm, enterprise, franchise, incorporated or unincorporated association, trust or other legal entity other than an individual or body politic.
- PERSONAL INTEREST
- Any interest arising from blood or marriage relationships or from close business or political associations, whether or not any financial interest is involved.
- SIGNIFICANT FIDUCIARY RELATIONSHIP
- (§ 19.44(1)(b), Wis. Stats.) Owning or controlling, directly or indirectly:
Editor's Note: See §§ 19.21 to 19.39, Wis. Stats.
Officials and employees hold their positions for the benefit of the public, whose interest must be of primary concern. Officials and employees are bound to uphold and to carry out efficiently and impartially all laws of the United States and the State of Wisconsin, as well as all ordinances, resolutions and policies of Adams County. They are further bound to observe in their official acts the highest standards of morality and to discharge faithfully the duties of their office regardless of personal considerations.
Use of public property. An official or employee shall not use or permit the use of County services or County-owned vehicles, equipment and materials for nongovernmental purposes or for personal convenience or for profit. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the County Board may approve the use of County services and County-owned vehicles and equipment for limited purposes in connection with the setup and operation of the Adams County Fair.
Obligations to citizens. An official or employee shall not grant any special consideration, treatment or advantage to any citizen beyond that which is available to every other citizen.
Financial and personal interest prohibited. Each official or employee shall prepare and file with the Adams County Clerk a statement of economic interest pursuant to § 19.44, Wis. Stats. No official or employee shall engage in any business or transaction or shall act in regard to financial or personal interest, direct or indirect, which:
Use of public position for private benefit (§ 19.59(1)(a), Wis. Stats.). Except as otherwise provided or approved by the County Board, no official or employee shall use his/her public position or office to obtain financial gain or anything of value for the private benefit of himself/herself or his/her immediate family, or for an organization with which he/she is associated. This subsection does not prohibit a County elected official from using the title or prestige of his/her office to obtain campaign contributions that are permitted by and reported as required by Chapter 11, Wis. Stats.
Incompatible employment. An official or employee shall not engage in or accept any private employment or render any service for a private interest when such employment or service is incompatible with the proper discharge of their official duties or which may impair their independence of judgment or action in the performance of their official duties unless as otherwise permitted by law or unless disclosure is made as hereafter provided. An employee shall obtain prior approval from their department head, or in the case of a department head, from the applicable home committee, before engaging in outside employment. Any authorized outside employment must not conflict with the official's or employee's ability to do their job with the County and must not otherwise violate any provision of this chapter. (See also Employee Handbook, Ch, 3, Sec. 12.)
Use or disclosure of confidential information. An official or employee shall not, without lawful authority, knowingly disclose or permit the disclosure of confidential information to any person not lawfully authorized to receive such privileged information, or use confidential information to advance their personal financial interest or the financial interest of any other person. (See also Employee Handbook, Ch. 3, §§ 9 and 11; County Board Rule 22 B.)
Receipt of gifts and gratuities prohibited. An official or employee shall not solicit or accept from any person or organization, directly or indirectly, anything of value without full payment, if it could reasonably be expected to influence their vote, governmental actions or judgments, or if it could reasonably be considered as compensation or a reward for any governmental action or inaction. It is not a conflict of interest for an official or employee to receive an unsolicited item of insignificant value or anything that is given to them independent of their position as an official or employee. This provision does not prohibit an official or employee from engaging in outside employment in accordance with this chapter.
Nepotism. An official or employee shall not hire, promote or directly supervise any member of his or her immediate family. (See also Employee Handbook, Ch. 3, § 4.)
Contracts (§ 19.46, Wis. Stats.). No official or employee shall, in a private capacity, negotiate, bid for, enter into, make or perform a contract in which the official, employee, immediate family member of the official or employee, or any business or organization with which an official, employee or immediate family member is associated, has a direct or indirect financial interest, if the official or employee is authorized or required by law to participate in the official's or employee's capacity as such officer or employee in the making of that contract or to perform in regard to that contract some official function requiring the exercise of discretion on the officer's or employee's part. If the official or employee will not be involved with the contract in an official capacity, the contract may be allowed only if awarded through a process of public notice and competitive bidding in conformity with all applicable laws. This provision is intended to comply with, and in no way contradicts or invalidates the guidelines in, § 946.13, Wis. Stats.
Financial interest in legislation. A member of the County Board who has a financial interest in any proposed action before the County Board shall fully disclose the nature and extent of such interest to the County Board Chair prior to the initial discussion of such action and shall refrain from participating in the discussion of, and voting on, such action. A member of the County Board shall request to be excused by the Board or Commission Chair for the duration of any deliberations concerning such action in which the member has a financial interest. Any other official or employee who has a financial interest in any proposed action before the County Board, and who participates in discussion with or gives an official opinion or recommendation to the County Board, shall first fully disclose the nature and extent of such interest to the County Board.
Business interest. An official or employee shall not engage in any business, transaction or act in regard to any financial interest, direct or indirect, which:
Unfair persuasion. No official or employee may use or attempt to use his or her public position to influence or gain unlawful benefits, advantages or privileges for himself or herself or others.
Issuance of permits. No official or employee empowered to issue a discretionary permit pursuant to either state or local laws or regulations shall issue any such permit to himself or herself or to any member of that official's or employee's immediate family without first revealing in writing the request for such permit to that person's immediate supervisor or to the County Board that regulates the subject of such permit and obtaining written permission from the person's immediate supervisor or the County Board to issue the same.
Pursuant to § 19.21 to 19.39, Wis. Stats., each and every official is the legal custodian of and shall safely keep and preserve all property and things received from the official's predecessor or other persons and required by law to be filed, deposited, or kept in the official's office, or which are in the lawful possession or control of the official or the official's deputies. All persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officials and employees who represent them.
Officials and employees may engage in political activity, provided that such activity does not interfere with the performance of their duties and does not involve the use of County equipment or property. Officials and employees are specifically prohibited from directly or indirectly coercing any person to withhold or contribute monetary or other types of assistance to any political candidate, party or purpose.
The following sections of the Wisconsin Statutes are hereby incorporated by reference and made a part of this chapter:
Section 19.48, Duties of the Board;
Chapter 11, Campaign Financing;
Section 19.21, Custody and delivery of official property and records;
Section 19.59, Code of ethics for local government officials, employees and candidates; and
Section 946.13, Private interest in public contract prohibited.
Officials shall comply with the sections of Wisconsin Statutes incorporated in this Code, and failure to do so shall constitute a violation of the code of ethics.
The Adams County Ethics Board is authorized to administer and enforce this chapter pursuant to § 19.59(3)(d), Wis. Stats.
Membership. The membership of the Ethics Board shall consist of two employees, two junior board members, and one citizen, all of whom will be appointed by the County Board Chair.
Powers and duties. The Ethics Board shall be responsible for investigating complaints and conducting fact-finding hearings pursuant to § 34-11 below.
Assistance of counsel. The Corporation Counsel shall furnish the Ethics Board whatever legal assistance is necessary to carry out its functions. The Corporation Counsel may retain outside counsel to provide this assistance as necessary.
Content of complaints. All complaints shall be made in writing. The complaint shall state the specific provision(s) of this chapter or Wisconsin statutes believed to have been violated and shall include sufficient information to support the allegations. The complaint shall also include all of the following: the name, address and telephone number of the complainant; the name, address and position of the individual who is the subject named in the complaint; the facts constituting the alleged ethics violation(s) set forth clearly and in detail; and if complainant(s) believes that any Board member has a conflict of interest or bias, it shall be stated in the complaint. Complaints that do not meet the minimum requirements set forth above shall be dismissed without prejudice. All written complaints shall be submitted to the office of the Adams County Clerk. The County Clerk shall forward the complaint to the Chair of the Ethics Board and the Corporation Counsel. No action may be taken on any request or complaint filed later than one year after a violation of this chapter is alleged to have occurred.
Notice, response and setting of initial hearing. The Ethics Board shall send notice, including a copy of the complaint, to the respondent and complainant within seven business days of receipt of the complaint by the Ethics Board Chair. The notice shall be given via certified mail or by personal service. The notice shall inform the respondent that he or she may file a written statement of his or her position with the board within 10 business days of the date the notice was sent. The Ethics Board shall set a time for an initial meeting on the complaint that is within 15 business days following the ten-business-day deadline for response by the respondent. The initial meeting shall be set prior to the notice being sent out so that the notice will include the date, time and place of the initial meeting of the board regarding the complaint. An agenda shall be filed and posted prior to the initial hearing. The Corporation Counsel shall send a copy of the response(s) received from the respondent(s) to the Ethics Board and the complainant(s) at least five business days prior to the initial hearing.
Initial hearing. The Ethics Board shall convene within 15 business days following the respondent's ten-business-day response period to determine if it has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint and to determine if there is a basis for the complaint. The complainant shall be present. If the complainant does not personally appear, the Ethics Board may dismiss the complaint without prejudice. If the Board determines that there is no basis for the complaint, the Board may immediately dismiss the complaint with prejudice and without hearing. In determining if there is a basis for the complaint, the Ethics Board must review the complaint, assuming that every allegation is true. If the Ethics Board determines that the verified complaint alleges facts that provide a reasonable basis to constitute a violation of the code of ethics, or that an investigation of a possible violation is warranted, it may make an investigation with respect to any alleged violation after notifying the respondent in writing. Such notice shall state the nature and purpose of the investigation, the actions or activities to be investigated, and the respondent's due process rights. The Ethics Board may, in its sole discretion, extend the deadlines for taking action on a verified complaint or request. Failure of the Ethics Board to take action within the time frames set forth in this subsection shall not preclude the Ethics Board from pursuing a complaint.
Pursuant to any investigation or hearing conducted under this chapter, the Ethics Board has the authority to:
Require any person to submit in writing such reports and answers to questions relevant to the proceedings conducted under this article as it may prescribe, such submission to be made within such period and under oath or otherwise as it may determine.
Administer oaths and to require by subpoena issued by it pursuant to § 885.01, Wis. Stats., the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of any documentary evidence relating to the investigation or hearing being conducted.
Order testimony to be taken by deposition before any individual who is designated by it and has the power to administer oaths, and, in such instances, to compel testimony and the production of evidence in the same manner as authorized by Subsection B above.
Pay witnesses the same fees and mileage as are paid in like circumstances by the courts in Wisconsin.
Request and obtain from the Department of Revenue copies of state income tax returns and access to other appropriate information under § 71.78(4), Wis. Stats., regarding all persons who are the subject of such investigation.
Retain outside counsel and other experts as needed in connection with any of the Ethics Board's responsibilities hereunder after solicitation of recommendations from the office of Corporation Counsel and upon such contract for services approved for content and form by the Corporation Counsel.
If after investigation, the Ethics Board finds that probable cause exists for believing the allegation(s) in the complaint, the Ethics Board shall, not less than 30 business days after such finding is made, schedule a hearing date. The Ethics Board shall give the complainant and the accused at least thirty-business-days' notice of the hearing date. The Ethics Board may appoint the Corporation Counsel and/or outside counsel to act as prosecutor of the complaint.
Pursuant to § 19.85, Wis. Stats., the hearing shall be closed to the public unless the accused requests that it be held in open session.
All evidence, including certified copies of records and documents which the Board considers, shall be fully offered and made part of the record of the case. The evidence presented shall be limited to the scope of the charges made in the complaint. The Ethics Board shall not be bound by the rules of evidence for trial, but it shall admit all evidence having reasonable probative value, provided that it relates to the scope of the charge(s) made in the complaint, and shall exclude immaterial, irrelevant or unduly repetitious testimony.
Every party shall be offered, during all stages of any investigation or proceeding conducted under this chapter, a reasonable opportunity to rebut or offer countervailing evidence.
The parties and/or their attorneys or representatives at law shall provide each other with an opportunity to examine all documents and records to be used at a hearing under this section at least 10 business days prior to the scheduled hearing.
The parties may make a brief opening statement to acquaint the Board with the nature of the complaint.
During the hearing, the parties shall have the opportunity to present witnesses, confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses and establish all pertinent facts.
The voting members of the Ethics Board may direct questions to any party or witness.
The burden of proving violations alleged in the complaint shall be on the complainant. Violations shall be proven by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence.
All proceedings held before the Ethics Board shall be recorded either by a certified court reporter or an electronic recording device.
The Ethics Board shall have the power to compel attendance of witnesses and to issue subpoenas under § 885.01, Wis. Stats.
Unless otherwise precluded by law, informal disposition of any case may be made by stipulation, agreed settlement, consent order or default.
Upon completion of the hearing, the Ethics Board shall adjourn to closed session for deliberations. Any person not a member of the Board, including County Board Supervisors, shall be excluded from the deliberations of the Ethics Board. The Corporation Counsel shall further be excluded from deliberations if the Corporation Counsel prosecuted the complaint on behalf of the complainant. Within the 10 workdays of the conclusion of the hearing, the Ethics Board shall complete and serve the parties its written findings of fact, conclusions of law, recommendations and orders signed by all participating Ethics Board members concerning the propriety of the conduct of the official or employee. The recommendations made by the Ethics Board may include a recommendation of the action and/or discipline that the Ethics Board believes that the official or employee by the official's or employee's governing, appointing or hiring authority should consider taking against the accused including, without limitation, censure, suspension, removal of an official from office or employment or that an employee be disciplined or discharged.
If the Ethics Board determines that no violation of this chapter has occurred, it shall dismiss the complaint and notify all parties involved, including the accused, and if requested to do so by the accused issue a public statement. If the Ethics Board finds that clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence of an ethics violation exists, the Ethics Board shall take any action and make any recommendations and/or orders that it deems appropriate in accordance with this subsection and § 34-15 below. The official or body to whom the decision of the Ethics Board is referred shall be guided by the recommendations of the Ethics Board but shall not be obligated to follow them.
If, after investigation and hearing, the Ethics Board determines by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence that a violation of this chapter has occurred, the Ethics Board must take one or more of the following actions:
Supervisors. If the person found to have violated this chapter is an elected member of the Board of Supervisors, the Ethics Board may refer the matter and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for whatever action the Board of Supervisors deems appropriate under law.
Other elected officials. If the person found to have violated this chapter is an elected county official other than a member of the Board of Supervisors, the matter may be referred to the official or body with the authority to remove the official from office as provided under the Adams County ordinances or Wisconsin Statutes. If none is designated in the Adams County ordinances or Wisconsin Statutes, the matter shall be referred to the Board of Supervisors.
Appointed officials. If the person found to have violated this chapter is an appointed County official, the matter may be referred to the official or body with the authority to remove the official from office as provided under the Adams County ordinances or Wisconsin Statutes. If none is designated by the Adams County ordinances or Wisconsin Statutes, then the matter shall be referred to the official or body who appointed the official to office.
Employees. If the person found to have violated this chapter is an employee, the Ethics Board may refer the matter to the employee's appointing/hiring authority. Employees are subject to Adams County Discipline Policy Document No. 5.
Return/restitution. An order for the specified return of County property or funds or gifts and/or restitution for the value of the gifts, property and funds procured, obtained or retained as a result of a violation of this chapter. An order for return/restitution shall include a deadline for return or making restitution.
Modify behavior. An order requiring the accused to conform his/her conduct to this chapter.
Fine. An order requiring an individual who has been determined by the Ethics Board to have violated this chapter to forfeit an amount not less than $100 nor more than $1,000 for each offense along with a payment deadline.
Corporation Counsel action. The Corporation Counsel, when requested by the Ethics Board, shall issue an advisory opinion pursuant to § 19.59(5), Wis. Stats. When requested by the Ethics Board, the Corporation Counsel may institute a civil proceeding to recover any forfeiture, restitution or enforce any declaratory order under this chapter which has not been timely complied with by the subject of the order. Any forfeiture or other funds recovered under this section shall be remitted to the Adams County Treasurer. Any property ordered to be returned shall be returned to the County department or entity from which the property was taken, or to any other person or entity providing a gift.
Referral to the District Attorney. (§ 19.59(8), Wis. Stats.) Referral to the District Attorney to commence enforcement, including costs of prosecution, interest and penalties as permitted by Wisconsin Statutes.
Other penalties. The enumerated penalties and sanctions in this section shall not be construed to limit the authority of the Ethics Board (§ 19.59(4), Wis. Stats.) or the County from imposing any additional penalties or sanctions. Any person found by the Ethics Board to have violated any portion of this chapter shall be subject to private reprimand, public reprimand, denial of salary or merit increase, suspension without pay, removal from employment or office in accordance with the provisions of Wisconsin Statutes or other disciplinary actions pursuant to the recommendations of the Ethics Board and/or judgment of the official or body to whom the decision of the Ethics Board is referred under this section. Any action taken by an official or employee that is deemed in violation of this section may be deemed void by Adams County.
Any other recommendations or orders as may be necessary and appropriate to carry out the intent and purpose of this ethics chapter.
No recommendation or order of the Ethics Board shall become effective until 20 days after it is issued.
References to statutes and ordinances cited herein shall include any and all future renumbering thereof.
The affected official or employee shall have a right to appeal to the County Board after a written decision is entered, or by grievance in the collective bargaining agreement, if applicable. Such appeal must be made in writing within 15 days of the decision of the Ethics Board. The filing of an appeal shall stay any recommendations and/orders issued by the Ethics Board hereunder. The County Board shall affirm the factual and legal findings of the Ethics Board unless such factual and legal findings are clearly erroneous.