Don't Accept Them
The correct analysis of "Freebies from the Utility Company" (June 2002 PM, "Ethics") must begin with the recognition that the "free" tickets are bribes. The utility expects something from those tickets even if the return is as nebulous as good will. I believe that the only rational policy toward gifts is never to accept them--right down to the last Christmas fruitcake. When receipt of an item cannot be avoided, give it to charity, but only as a last resort.
The manager in this case should begin by discussing the situation privately with the elected officials who are offered the "free" tickets, with the advice that it would be appropriate to refuse such offers. Managers should advise their elected superiors of the following actions that they, as managers, will take:
1. Institute a "no gifts" policy. Don't fall into the de minim us trap. Vendors will respond to the politely given statement that employees accept no gifts.
2. Contact the public utilities commission, which sets the utility's rates, to determine if the "gifts" are paid for from company profits or are included as costs of business, to be recovered in rates. Advise the commission of the practice for appropriate action at the company's next rate-setting proceeding.
3. Contact the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the utility (likely, the state's attorney general) to see where the ticket-giving practice falls in the state's bribery statutes.
The moral high ground is always the best place to be to deliver government services on an impartial and equitable basis. The response given in "Ethics" came perilously close to a discussion of how to divide the spoils.
Philip L. Munck
Municipal Consultant and Former City Manager
Somersworth, New Hampshire
Citizen Survey Information
Congratulations are due to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the National Research Center (NRC) for developing a partnership that will help local governments improve our services. (An article on the partnership was published in the May 2001 PM.) Their teamwork has promoted the use of resident (external customer) surveys, which help cities and counties obtain feedback on services and promote community involvement.
The NRC has collected citizen survey data from more than 300 jurisdictions nationwide. Its database includes responses to more than 4,000 survey questions dealing with resident perceptions about the quality of community life and services provided by local governments.
Sunnyvale, California, has conducted both external and internal customer surveys to improve the quality of our services and our work environment. We have begun to develop a customer responsiveness system that will initially include biannual surveys and in-depth analysis of key findings through community focus groups and key-driver analysis. We also are seeking to identify other jurisdictions to use as benchmarks for our services. …