Sample language in client letters

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Sample Client Letter Language

Word version available at LetteronEthicsLawAdvice

To: [Members of the Board of Supervisors, City Council, Special District Governing Board]

From: [County Counsel, Special District Counsel, City Attorney]

Date:

Subject: Your Obligations Under State and Federal Ethics Laws

Enclosed are materials to assist you in understanding your obligations under state and federal ethics laws.

Legally Required Ethics Training

State law requires that you receive training within one year of joining [city, county, special district] service and every two years after that. Attached is a list of options for satisfying that requirement, which includes the options are available through ab1234compliance.

Getting Guidance on Ethics Law Issues

Should you have questions that arise under these laws, our office will endeavor to assist you. We will either provide you with our analysis of your obligations or assist you in seeking advice from the Fair Political Practices Commission, Attorney General’s Office or other resources. Please be advised that the analysis can be complex and time-consuming, so early consultation will enable either our office or state officials to provide well-researched and timely advice.

There are a number of important things for you to keep in mind regarding our office’s role.

First, our office, in accordance with state law, [the city or county charter, if applicable] and the State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, represents the [City of _________, ____________ District, County of _________], acting through the agency’s highest administrative authority on a matter. As such, individual elected officials and staff do not enjoy an attorney-client relationship with members of our legal team. This means that any conversations we have with individual elected officials and staff may be subject to disclosure and may not be protected by the attorney-client privilege of confidentiality.

For example, in the event that facts come to our attention which lead us to believe that you should seek an analysis of whether you can participate in a decision, we will publicly advise the [city council, board of supervisors, special district governing board] of our concerns. We will pursue a similar course of action in the event we believe it would be a violation of the law for you to participate in a decision. In the event that you participate in the decision in spite of our concerns, the council’s/board’s standing ethics policies contemplate that we will cooperate with enforcement authorities to determine whether a violation of any laws has occurred.

Another thing for you to know is that any advice we provide to you concerning your duties under the Political Reform Act and other laws will not protect you from an enforcement action by the Fair Political Practices Commission or other law enforcement authorities. If you desire such immunity, this office will assist you in making direct contact with the Fair Political Practices Commission for advice upon which you can rely. Again, the earlier we initiate such contacts, the more likely you will receive a timely response.

Finally, our office does not advise candidates or elected officials on their obligations under campaign laws. This is consistent with the general principle that public resources, including public agency staff time, may not be used for political purposes (for more information, see third booklet in list below).

Relationship of Ethics Laws to Ethics

As important as compliance with laws relating to the public’s trust and confidence in public officials is, it is important to keep in mind that the law creates only minimum standards for public officials’ conduct. For more information on public service ethics principles, see attachments 4 and 5 below. We also encourage you to take advantage of the resources available at trust relating to both public service ethics laws and principles. This includes analyses of commonly faced public service ethical dilemmas available at everydayethics.

Cc: City Clerk/County Clerk/District Secretary

City Manager/County Administrator/Special District General Manager

Enclosures:

1) List of AB 1234 Compliance Options

2) Key Ethics Law Principles (EthicsPrinciples)

3) Understanding the Basics of Public Service Ethics Laws (EthicsLaws)

4) “The Front Page Test: An Easy Ethics Standard” (FrontPageTest)

5) Understanding the Basics of Public Service Ethics: Promoting Personal and Organizational Ethics (ppoe)

G:\INSTITUTE\Ethics\Attorney Ethics\Sample_Language_in_Client_Letters_Re_Ethics_Materials.doc

Notice of AB 1234 Compliance Options

(See Government Code Section 53235(f))

State law requires specified local officials to receive two hours of ethics training.[1] The requirement applies to local officials who either receive compensation for their service to the city or are reimbursed for their expenses.[2] The training must cover both ethics laws and ethics principles.[3]

For newly elected and appointed officials, the requirement is to receive this training within one year of assuming office.[4] For everyone else, the requirement is to receive this training within two years of receiving one’s first training.[5]

There are a number of options for complying with this requirement.

• The city/county/special district will be offering training on ________________ from _____ to ______ at _______.

• Self-study materials are available at ab1234compliance. The materials require that you read two articles on public service ethics laws and principles, take a self-assessment test and then submit it to the Institute for Local Government with a processing fee for each test. The Institute will review your test(s), provide you the correct answers to the questions and a proof of participation certificate.

• The Fair Political Practices Commission offers free online training at . This option requires you to log onto the FPPC’s website, review various screens of materials, take periodic tests to assure retention of the information and then print out a certificate.

• The Institute for Local Government also offers onsite training to local officials at conferences, regional meetings and at individual local agencies on a fee basis. For more information see ab1234compliance.

Once you receive your proof of participation in the required AB 1234 training, please make a copy of the certificate for your records and provide the original to the city/county clerk’s [or district secretary’s] office.[6] These records will be retained as public records for at least five years.[7]

As with all ethics laws, AB 1234 creates a minimum for ethics education—not a maximum. We encourage you to take advantage of additional training in ethics-related topics and document those efforts as well.

If you have any questions regarding these requirements, please contact ___________________. Note that general information about AB 1234 is also available at ab1234compliance, including a frequently-asked-questions sheet.

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[1] Cal. Gov’t Code § 53235(a), (b).

[2] Cal. Gov’t Code § 53235(a).

[3] Cal. Gov’t Code § 53235(b).

[4] Cal. Gov’t Code § 53235.1(b).

[5] Cal. Gov’t Code § 53235.1(a).

[6] Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 53235(e), 53235.2(a).

[7] Cal. Gov’t Code § 53235.2(b).

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