It’s not mandatory for city and town councils to have a written ethics policy to guide them. Not all East Valley municipalities do. And they really shouldn’t be necessary, as holders of public office automatically should aspire to the highest standards of professional conduct.
Yet a recent string of stories regarding Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman explain why the District 22 Republican committee called on Gilbert officials to write that city’s first ethics code. Berman has repeatedly defended accepting for free the $1,200 suit he wore for a recent Dillard’s ad, which compounded the damage done to his image when he accepted the free use of a truck donated by San Tan Ford, the inaugural tenant of Gilbert’s first autoplex. The truck technically is being loaned to the town, not turned over to the mayor wholesale. And it’s evidently common for models to be given the clothes they wear for advertising photo shoots. But despite Berman’s insistence to the Tribune’s Chris Markham last week that he hasn’t done anything that falls into what Berman called “what the hell is going on here?” territory, some observers are clearly asking that question.
Berman was absolutely correct when he pointed out being mayor is a part-time job, and anyone who holds that job has a right to earn money outside of his responsibilities for the city. But such private income needs to be truly unconnected so a mayor can be accountable to all residents equally, which is why conflict-of-interest statutes and ethics policies exist in the first place. It’s a little jarring that Berman justifies accepting freebies tied to his public office by asserting his right to make a living, and it’s disconcerting that other Town Council members have been unwilling to criticize these missteps.
Berman correctly points out leaders of the District 22 committee are political opponents who look at any supposed controversy as an opportunity to castigate him. But regardless of this history of animosity, the committee makes a good point about the need for the Town Council to lay down the ethics law.