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ICMA Censures, Bars Walker for Ethics Violations

University City's city manager is barred from future membership in the organization.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has censured University City's City Manager Lehman Walker and barred him from future membership.

The decision was made by the ICMA executive board at its Feb. 25 meeting and announced via press release on Feb. 29. 

According to the ICMA, the "Board found that Mr. Walker violated Tenets 2, 3, and 4 of the ICMA Code of Ethics. While working for another local government, Mr. Walker communicated with a council member and mayoral candidate about city business; made comments criticizing the University City manager’s performance; and did not inform the University City manager about the discussions. Mr. Walker also sent his résumé to the mayoral candidate shortly before the election. Finally, Mr. Walker failed to fulfill his ethical obligation to serve a two‐year tenure by resigning from his position after nine months to take the position as city manager in University City."

Walker on Feb. 17. He cited budgetary reasons for his departure from the organization. 

"The ICMA decision is a conclusive example of why I recently resigned from this voluntary organization," Walker told Patch Wednesday. "Not only is the Board’s action politically motivated, it is driven by an interpretation of a so called Code that is simply used to protect certain members. I have already confirmed my resignation from the association since there is no job requirement that I belong. This type of political activity is contrary to my personal rights. I see no future value of the association for me personally or for University City at a cost of $1,100 per year. I can understand why only one in five city managers chooses to belong to this organization."

The ICMA codes requires that members not have ongoing communications about local government matters with elected officials in another local government when there is an incumbent manager.

"At the first contact initiated by an elected official, a member should inform their colleague and then cease further communication with the elected official," the ICMA press release states. "Certainly, the member should not initiate the contact. Such ongoing communication, especially when it is unknown to the incumbent, can be disruptive to the administration of the organization and undermine the incumbent manager."

Walker came to U City in August of 2010 from Evanston, IL. He served as Evanston's director of community and economic development, according to KSDK.

Walker replaced former city manager Julie Feier. He previously had served almost 12 years as U City's director of community development before leaving in 2009 for Evanston.

The ICMA Code of Ethics recommends a city manager serving two years in order to render a professional service to a local government. The ICMA board concluded that Walker lacked sufficient justification to leave his position in Evanston early.

Mayor Shelley Welsch issued the following statement on the announcement:

"This action of the ICMA is of no concern to me, and has no impact on Mr. Walker’s ability to continue to provide his excellent management skills to the challenges facing our City. The ICMA is a volunteer membership organization; with no accrediting power; with no authority or knowledge to penalize our City Manager; which has, through this action, shown its commitment to its dues-paying members, past and present, as opposed to the residents of municipalities that its members serve. This is one more politically-motivated attempt to smear Mr. Walker, using material that has been public for a year and a half, has already been the subject of a lawsuit that has been suspended, and follows a complaint filed by local officials who have never met – or indeed ever spoken with, Mr. Walker. It’s a travesty – and I hope the people of University City realize this for what it is. I have already spent more words on it than it deserves."

ICMA Code Violations

The ICMA board, according to a press release, censured Walker for violating the following ethical standards. 

Tenet 2

  • Affirm the dignity and worth of services rendered by government and maintain a constructive, creative, and practical attitude toward local government affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trust public servant.
  • Guideline: When members advise and respond to inquiries from elected or appointed officials of other local governments, they should inform the administrators of those communities.

Tenet 3

  • Be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the respect and confidence of the elected officials, of other officials and employees, and of the public.
  • Guideline: Members should conduct themselves as to maintain public confidence in their profession, their local government, and in their performance of the public trust.
  • Guideline: Members should not seek employment for a position having an incumbent administrator who has not resigned or been officially informed that his or her services are to be terminated.

Tenet 4

  • Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all of the people.
  • Guideline: A minimum of two years generally is considered necessary in order to render a professional service to the local government. A short tenure should be the exception rather than a recurring experience. However, under special circumstances, it may be in the best interests of the local government and the member to separate in a shorter time. Examples of such circumstances would include refusal of the appointing authority to honor commitments concerning conditions of employment, a vote of no confidence in the member, or severe personal problems. It is the responsibility of an applicant for a position to ascertain conditions of employment. Inadequately determining terms of employment prior to arrival does not justify premature termination.
George Lenard March 04, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Good information. This is particularly interesting: "While the popularity of council–manager government has endured into the twenty-first century, the system as practiced has changed over time, particularly in once medium-sized communities that have grown into more heterogeneous and politically contentious large cities. In such communities, their elected officials increasingly see themselves as political activists responding to a constituency rather than trustees performing a public service, and they take a greater interest in administration on a day-to-day basis, participating more closely in resolving civic issues, rather than simply identifying them as in the traditional model." I don't know about anyone else, but the role of elected officials as described in the last sentence quoted, rather than the classic one, is what I prefer. Second to that, if most power is to reside in an unelected City Manager, I'd like to see that person be one who is committed to working closely with the Mayor and Council. Hence, I am not troubled that one of the top concerns for a candidate running for Mayor was anticipating who might be hired as City Manager. That is not to say that the rules shouldn't have been followed, but that the violation is understandable.
Steve March 04, 2012 at 07:50 PM
To be clear mr walker first contacted the city officials not the other way around. He specifically called for the then current city manager to be fired. He was working In another city actively working to create the job opening in University City he was then placed into. Absent his efforts to have the city manager removed, there may not have been an opening.
George Lenard March 04, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Yes Steve, more serious that way. The point "there may not have been an opening" is something that should be investigated. My understanding was that was pretty much a given if certain people would be elected.
Cindy March 04, 2012 at 09:46 PM
So, Mr. Walker was calling for the current city manager to be fired, campaigning for Shelley Welsch to help her get elected, and submitted his resume just prior to the election. Now I think we are getting down to the heart of the ethics violations.
George Lenard March 05, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Yes "Fan," I give the administration benefit of doubt. I keep encountering more and more people I consider independent thinkers, whose opinions I respect, who support privately to me what I say publicly here. I also keep seeing the same handful of people here who seem to never give benefit of the doubt. I seek to provide balance. Hypothetical situations, eh? You just confirmed they were not that. I'll give a bit more of a response now. Your first scenario may or may not have been a sound management decision and may or may not have been within the manager's authority without Council approval. I don't know; I don't have all the facts. My guess is it was within his authority and as he looked into it and thought about it he decided to go ahead with it unilaterally. My guess is it wasn't a bad management decision, as you didn't present any facts about negative consequences flowing from it. I've been criticized here for speculating, so I'll admit there's speculation there. As to your second scenario, white lies about reason for termination are not, in my opinion, usually a good idea. They are, in my experience practicing management employment law for over 25 years, quite common. Saying a position is being eliminated is easier and less painful than telling someone you've worked with for years that they're overpaid, underqualified, and not doing a good job. Again, I'm speculating; that may or may not be what happened. But you pushed me with your "avoiding like the plague" comment.

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