To investigate and rule on allegations of violations of the Trenton Code of Ethics by officers and employees serving the City of Trenton, and
To provide training and advisory opinions on ethical conduct to officers and employees serving the City of Trenton.
What is a Code of Ethics?
A code of ethics consists of rules and procedures that government officers and employees follow if they are to act responsibly and professionally. At heart, a code of ethics is about preserving institutional integrity – about citizens having faith and confidence in their government. Government codes of ethics deal largely with conflicts of interest, which are conflicts between the obligations government officers and employees have toward the public and their personal obligations to themselves, their family, business associates and others with whom they have a special relationship.
The Trenton Code of Ethics is based on the New Jersey Code of Ethics for municipal governments. Under state law, the City of Trenton can adopt a more restrictive code, but cannot adopt a less restrictive code than is provided in state law.
In broad terms, the Trenton Code of Ethics prohibits government officers and employees from having an interest in a business organization that is in substantial conflict with the discharge of duties in the public interest, or from using his or her official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages. The Trenton Ethics Board also reviews and regulates the filing of annual financial disclosure statements by government officers.
The Trenton Ethics Board does not have authority over many violations of state law or election laws. The Code of Ethics is narrowly focused on conflicts of interest. There are many illegal or criminal activities that do not violate the Trenton Code of Ethics.
Who Does the Code of Ethics Cover?
The Trenton Code of Ethics covers regular employees of any department, agency or board of the City, excluding the Trenton Public Schools. The Code also covers what are called “officers”, which includes any person elected to any office of the City of Trenton, who is a member of an independent municipal, county or regional authority, who is a managerial executive or confidential employee of a local government agency, or who is a member of specified boards and commissions, but excluding the Trenton Board of Education or any board or commission of the Trenton Public Schools. Officers are not necessarily employees. Examples of officers include city council members and members of the Zoning Board, Planning Board and other boards.
How does the Trenton Ethics Board operate?
The Trenton Ethics Board has adopted Rules of Procedure for proceedings under the Code of Ethics. Under the Code and the Rules, the Trenton Ethics Board can initiate a complaint itself, or can act in response to a formal complaint filed by anyone. To learn how to file a complaint, go here.
The Rules of Procedure provide for a preliminary inquiry to determine whether the complaint is within the Board's jurisdiction or frivolous or without any reasonable factual basis. For well-founded complaints, the Board then conducts a formal investigation, which can include a hearing. If the Board determines by two-thirds vote that a violation of the Code of Ethics has been committed, the Board issues a Final Decision and imposes a penalty of not less than $100 nor more than $500. For employees, the Board may recommend that further disciplinary action be taken, including termination.
Thirty days after a complaint has been resolved by Final Order or Notice of Dismissal, the complaint and allied statements or information obtained by the Board are subject to public disclosure.
What about information for government officers and employees?
Government officers and employees may request an advisory opinion as to whether any proposed activity or conduct constitutes a violation of the Code of Ethics. Section 3 of the Rules of Procedure provides what a government officer or employee should do to request an advisory opinion.
The Trenton Ethics Board also offers training to employees on the Code of Ethics. For more information, contact the Board by email at TrentonEthicsBoard@trentonnj.org.