Elected officials, city staff: No personal favors

Apr. 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Ralph Tranter is a good police chief who has served Tempe well.

But Tranter wrote a letter outside of work asking a judge to go easy on City Councilwoman Barb Carter's son. According to a report released last week, Tranter's actions violated the city's personnel rules and the police code of conduct.

Tranter's mistake raises an issue that all Southeast Valley municipalities should be mulling: What relationship should council members and mayors have with department heads?

Even if Tranter and Carter were not buddies outside of work, even if the report found "no evidence that Tranter received any personal gain" from writing the letter, clearly his volunteering to write the letter was wrong because it looked like special treatment.

Simply put, the perception among some residents and police officers is that Tranter volunteered the letter either under tacit pressure or as a quid pro quo.

Of course, Tranter and Carter insist it is not. But oftentimes, perception is more damning than reality.

In his explanation to City Manager Will Manley, Tranter detailed the times he had gotten involved in other cases. Most were people he'd known for years, not people he'd only met once, as was the case with Colby Carter.

That he would volunteer to write a letter solely because Councilwoman Carter was Colby's mother casts serious doubt on how the letter came to be.

What's worse, Tranter tells Manley of the help he gave an unidentified state lawmaker who asked him to assist a family member stranded in rural Arizona. That shows how pervasive this attitude is, that at least some elected officials think they can simply call up department heads to do personal favors for them at any time.

This is unacceptable.

Sadly, most municipal codes of ethics don't say that. They don't say elected officials are expected to abide by a code of ethics, the same ones that hold employees' feet to the fire.

It's time that happened. Every Southeast Valley municipality should clearly state that mayors and council member are forbidden from requesting personal favors of municipal staff members and specify punishments for those who cross the line.

The perceptions of municipal employees, not to mention residents' trust in municipal government, may one day rely on it.

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