Seeking to create what its president, Cal Bellamy, calls "an ethical culture" in the region, the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission is asking local candidates to sign an ethics action pledge.
A cover letter and pledge created by the commission is being delivered to candidates for county posts in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. The documents also are being sent to town council candidates in Lake and Porter counties, including those in Kouts, Dyer, Lowell, Schererville and St. John.
Dyer, Lowell, and Schererville are currently members of the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. The commission provides training for local government employees on ethical decision-making, provides specialized training for department heads, sponsors training for community volunteers and hosts the annual Ethics in Government breakfast for elected officials.
Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at Thursday's breakfast in Merrillville. The event will include a local panel featuring LaPorte County Commissioner Vidya Kora, Times columnist Rich James and Anna Rominger, dean of the School of Business at Indiana University Northwest.
The dissemination of the pledge to the candidates has been timed to coincide with the event. It asks candidates to pledge, if elected, to "being an advocate for ethical practices within my realm of responsibility."
Specifically, it calls for them to provide training for employees, establish policies and procedures consistent with ethical decision-making and develop policies enabling employees to file an ethics grievance without fear of retribution.
The code of shared ethics and values adopted by the members of the commission include a laundry list of guidelines, including protecting the public trust by exercising honesty and ensuring transparency, to treat every person with dignity and respect, to refrain from using official positions to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for themselves or others and to advocate the most efficient, effective and equitable way to deliver public services without prejudice or discrimination.
The complete code, as well as other information about the volunteer commission, can be found at www.sharedethics.com.
Bellamy said the group has no enforcement power, and the code is rather a philosophical statement. He said the idea is to have officials think about ethics rather than list 101 dos and don'ts.
"Our ultimate goal is to create an ethical culture in Northwest Indiana," Bellamy said.
The organization is in the process of conducting a survey of what practices and policies other communities have in place. The group will review these and the hope is that eventually they can be used by member communities to assess, or implement, their own policies, Bellamy said.
Various communities have declined to join for reasons ranging from saying ethics training is not needed for its staff because only employees with common sense are hired, to complaints about the cost of membership.
The commission charges governments with more than 150 employees $2,500 for the first two years and then $1,500 annually. Smaller communities are charged $250 per year.
Bellamy said all the group's $30,000 budget goes to training and supplies. The all-volunteer group has no salaries or staff.
While there are no private companies that have joined, Bellamy said his organization would be open to their becoming members.