Code of Conduct

Most of us probably don’t need a formal code to tell us what is or is not correct behavior in the workplace, just as most city managers probably don’t need a code of ethics to prescribe ethical behavior.  I remember, however, being impressed by the ICMA Code of Ethics when I was a young city manager and recognizing how valuable it could be to me as I started my career.  The ICMA code has been around since the 1920s; and, while it has been revised on occasion, it is not substantially different today than it was 80-plus years ago.

I am hopeful that a new City of Albany Code of Conduct developed by employees from every city department will be as useful to us as the ICMA code has been to me over the past 30 years.  In reviewing the City’s new, draft code, it seems like a straightforward guide to appropriate behavior at work.  I am sure the great majority of employees are already observing the proposed policy, but we have had incidents in the past that might have been prevented by the very clear expectations expressed in the new code.

I am particularly grateful to the employees who took the time to work together to develop the code.  Jenn Williams, Rick Barnett, Jason Katzenstein, Danette DeSaulnier, Stephanie Warren, Staci Belcastro, Ashley Tucker, LaRee Dominguez, David Goeke, Hillary Kosmicki, Mary Dibble, and Kate Porsche took time from their regular duties to develop the policy.  Department directors and supervisors will be presenting the code to their work groups, and anyone with concerns or suggestions for improvements is welcome to discuss them with supervisors and/or submit them to the Human Resources Department.

The formal purpose of the policy as developed by the Committee is:

To maintain a working environment where all individuals are treated with respect and dignity, and are free of discrimination and harassment.

Workplace harassment manifests itself in two primary ways:

  1. Violations of state and federal law (reference City of Albany Workplace Discriminatory Harassment Policy); and
  2. Behavior that may not violate law, but which violates this City policy because the behavior is not conducive to creating a work environment where all employees are treated with respect and dignity, which is addressed in this policy.

Respect is a word I believe we all understand and should be able to practice in our work relationships.  Offensive humor, language, and gestures – usually at the expense of others – may have seemed acceptable when the older workers among us started our careers, but it is not acceptable now.  Hazing new employees is another example of failing to practice respect.  I rarely hear reports about these kinds of behaviors, and I don’t believe they are a common problem at the City.  The standard, however, is not rarely; it’s never.  I believe the Code of Conduct will help us achieve this standard, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who practices respect and consideration every day.

Car Seats Revisited

Last year, I wrote a column about my frustration with installing child car seats and how this seemingly simple task requires more knowledge and energy than this grandfather possesses.  I still struggle with car seats when I’m looking after my grandchildren; but thanks to one of our employees, I have a much better attitude about using them.

Lindsey Austin in our engineering division talked to me after reading my column last April and pointed out how important properly installed car seats are to child safety.  More importantly, Lindsey took action and has volunteered her time to help coordinate installation clinics at fire stations in addition to writing a successful grant application for $4,000 to assist local efforts.  Work like Lindsey’s reminds me of the many volunteer hours city employees contribute to the community, and it inspires me to keep a positive attitude when negative stuff crosses my desk.

I am also happy to report that the car seat purchased for my youngest grandchild (Isaac –age 8 months) is much easier to install than its predecessors.  Clever engineers have come up with a push-button system that did away with frustrating clips.  I am now able to install this seat without requiring a nap later in the day.  I should add that even when my attitude was at its worst, I would never drive anywhere with my grandchildren without a secure child safety seat.  We used them with our own children long before they became a legal requirement.

Not long ago, I came across a Facebook posting asking people of my age to “like” a blog (http://www.baywideweb.com/content/HOW-DID-WE-SURVIVE-CHILDHOOD.htm) about how people of my generation had survived without things like child car seats, child-resistant lids on medicines, bike helmets, and other safety precautions.  While it’s true that most of us did survive those years, it’s equally true that many more of us would have lived to adulthood if these safety features had been available to parents.  I feel confident about making that claim thanks to some data from the Centers for Disease Control that show how the number of deaths from accidents has declined over the past 100 years.  I pointed out in a column last May that 50,000 more people would die every year if the death rate from accidents had not been reduced from 1971 to its present day level.

I am most grateful for the good work that goes on every day, here and elsewhere, to make the world a safer place for children.  I think that work is its own reward, but I also believe it’s important to recognize the efforts of people like Lindsey who are quietly doing so much to be of service.

Success and Failure

Sometimes success in one area can produce failure in another.  I was reminded of this fact over the weekend while reading a commentary that included a list of the cities with the most affordable housing prices in the U.S.  The top city on that list (the most successful at having affordable housing) was Dayton, Ohio, a place I have visited many times over the course of my life.

I know with complete certainty that there is an abundant supply of affordable housing in Dayton because I have seen whole neighborhoods that are essentially vacant as recently as a few months ago.  Another city in the Top Ten of the list is Detroit, Michigan, where the City is actually tearing down houses because no one is interested in owning them.  The solution to creating affordable housing seems to be to make a community so unappealing that few people want to live or own property there.

Truly successful cities are, not surprisingly, more expensive than places with crumbling infrastructure, high crime rates, poor economies, or environmental degradation.  San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, and New York, for example, are communities where people want to live and are both willing and able to pay the higher price associated with a successful city.

The commentary I was reading made the valid point that while affordable housing might be one measure of success, it will not compensate for overall failure to make a city an attractive place to be.  Quality is rarely achieved without sufficient investment of critical resources, such as time, talent, and money.  Distressed cities can certainly use their affordability as part of a strategy to improve; but without a corresponding commitment to the services, amenities, and environment people expect in a healthy community, positive results are unlikely.

Albany’s Strategic Plan lists four themes that we believe are essential to making our town a good place to live:  1) A Safe Community; 2) Great Neighborhoods; 3) A Healthy Economy; and 4) Effective Government.  All of these themes are related to one another, and all depend on continuing investment.  Housing prices, new construction, and population growth are evidence that the Plan is working.  Housing may not be as affordable here as it is in less attractive communities, but Albany’s housing options remain reasonably good with the continuing construction of new single-family homes, apartment buildings, and senior living facilities.

I believe Albany is an ongoing success story over its 150-year history as an incorporated city.  There have been times when the town lost population, such as during the Great Depression and the deep recession of the early 1980s; but the long-term trend has been steady growth that has produced a small city that remains an attractive place to live.