St. Louis County code of conduct complete

A code of conduct and ethics that would apply to St. Louis County commissioners, employees and people officially acting on behalf of the county was rolled out Thursday after months of development.

A code of conduct and ethics that would apply to St. Louis County commissioners, employees and people officially acting on behalf of the county was rolled out Thursday after months of development.

The eight-page code, developed by county administrators and elected officials, includes language that deals with conduct, respect, conflict of interest, drug and alcohol use, protection of county property, creating county records, discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, workplace violence and bullying, County Board Chairman Bill Kron said.

"I think people are going to do a lot of talking about it and about areas they don't agree with," Kron said. "I couldn't tell you if it's going to pass or get watered down. My hope is that the board would pass something like this."

On Tuesday, the code will receive its first airing before commissioners at a board workshop at the county's Public Works Department on Midway Road.

Official action can't be taken at a board workshop.


For nearly a year, the seven-member board has been embroiled in turmoil.

A suit by newly elected County Attorney Melanie Ford over her salary and staffing divided the board. Later, during debate over representing constituents' wishes on a proposed countywide smoking ban, an exchange between Commissioners Keith Nelson and Kron made headlines when Nelson said he would support slavery if the vast majority of his constituents wanted him to.

Sexual harassment complaints by two female employees against Commissioners Dennis Fink and Steve Raukar followed.

Although it may appear that the code of conduct and ethics was written in response to the board's troubles, development had been under way before the problems, Administrator Dana Frey said.

"I think there's been the belief that it's been in response to these issues, but it hasn't been," Frey said. "It really came out of our nursing home director asking whether we had a policy in place about workplace violence."

The code was developed by Kron, Frey, Ford, Auditor Don Dicklich and Sheriff Ross Litman.

The code would cover all county employees, including elected officials. The seven commissioners, auditor, sheriff and attorney are elected and aren't considered county employees.

Under the proposed policy, if a complaint were filed against an elected official, the board's chairman would convene an ethics committee composed of the board chairman, auditor and sheriff. The county attorney and affirmative action officer would act as advisers.


The committee would oversee investigation of any complaint. The committee chairman would report the findings and make a recommendation to the full County Board.

The board could affirm the recommendation or send the findings to a review panel of five citizens who have expertise in employment laws, regulations and standards of workplace conduct. The panel could then issue its own judgment.

Kevin Skwira-Brown of Duluth, a member of the watchdog group "We Are Watching," said Thursday the code appears to address a variety of behaviors.

"It isn't just a single set of behaviors that has raised concerns," Skwira-Brown said. "I think it's great that they are looking at a wide range of behaviors. I think it's important that complaints have a formal process to be investigated under. A good policy will protect anyone involved who is innocent."

Still, Skwira-Brown says the code should contain more accountability for those found in violation and language that calls on the chairman of an ethics committee to report findings to the board.

"It looks like the chair of the board would have a fair amount of power," Skwira-Brown said. "I would hope that they would look at some possible refinement in that direction. Fundamentally, it [the code] has more process, but not necessarily more bite."

A public servant who violates the code would be "subject to disciplinary action designed to bring the public servant's conduct into conformity with this code," according to the policy.

"It has teeth," Kron said of the proposed policy. "The first is that the board has to affirm the findings. If it doesn't, it will go to a public panel for their scrutiny. I don't think anyone would want it to go that far."


In addition to a draft of the policy, policies from five other counties were distributed to commissioners Thursday, Frey said.

Commissioners could adopt the proposed policy or incorporate language from the other counties, he said.

Kron supports the proposed policy.

"Since the beginning of the year, I have been pushing for a code of conduct," Kron said. "I think the year has shown we are in great need of a policy for elected officials as well as all employees."

LEE BLOOMQUIST can be reached weekdays at (800) 368-2506, (218) 744-2354 or by e-mail at .

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