The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 30, 2009

Opinions

Town employees and volunteers to receive online ethics training

What are the ramifications of a recent amendment to the state Conflict of Interest Law that requires both town volunteers and municipal employees to complete ethics training by April 2, 2010? While keeping records will create more paperwork for the town, most will find the online ethics training easy. It may even prove to be helpful.

Town Clerk Charlene Hinton explained that employees will soon receive a summary of the conflict of interest law and notification of the online training, along with a letter to sign and return indicating receipt of the information. Training completion certificates are to be stored along with the letters and will remain valid for two years. After April 2, new employees will have 30 days to complete the training. “Special municipal employees,” such as board and committee members, are included and must also complete the ethics training. Asked if occasional volunteers such as chaperones at Friday Nite Live would be included, Hinton said, “The way they’re treating this, I would say yes. Anything sponsored by the municipal government – the school, police, fire, library or Town Hall.”

The idea of requiring volunteers to pass ethical training sounds daunting, but need not be. While the State Ethics Commission’s “summary” of the Conflict of Interest Law is 14 pages long, the commission also provides an easy-to-read two-page introduction, available on their web site: www.mass.gov/ethics. As the introduction states, the gist was captured by Thomas Jefferson: “Ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly.”

The online training (available at the same website) is conducted via a series of 25 hypothetical situations for which participants are asked to decide whether or not the law would be violated. Most deal with state government, but the Ethics Commission plans to offer training geared more for municipal employees later on. Examples related to local boards and volunteers would be helpful.

Answers are multiple-choice. If an incorrect answer is entered, an explanation is given and the user is asked to try again (and again). It takes about half an hour to answer the questions and print out the certificate. Town employees and volunteers who have additional questions about the law can receive confidential advice by calling the Ethics Commission at 1-617-371-9500.

If the ethical training helps people learn to avoid conflicts of interest, will it be worth the added paperwork? It is similar to when the state imposed Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks for volunteers a few years ago and the school and Town Hall had to scramble to process the records. Whether the glass is half-full or half-empty, it looks as if the state’s ethical training is here to stay.

Green, the new black

Anybody driving across town last week couldn’t but notice the signs along the road sides on all main roads leading to and from town center. 350 Day was celebrated last Saturday around the world with some 3,500 demonstrations in more than 170 countries.

350, a citizen action group, founded and led by author of The End of Nature, Bill McKibben, hopes to steer enough public activism and to bring people, media and governments together to create climate change. With the upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark later in December, 350’s climate-change rallies, walks, sign-making and a host of other localized events were especially timely.

The other week, speaking at a Harvard University “Climate Convocation” event, McKibben said that climate change is too late to stop, but not too late to act.

Across town, on the same side of the Charles, just last Friday, President Obama addressed an invitation-only crowd of environmentalists, community activists, industry leaders and MIT faculty and students:

“From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to produce and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation. It’s that simple.”

While I believe in pushing for excellence and leadership, I somewhat question the desire to win first place in a race. It might be a race, but it’s not that simple. It’s certainly not about winning first place in this race. It’s more about working in unison to be winners, or – as a world – losing together.

Living 2.7 miles from town center, I did not get to hear the 350 rings of church bells opening the day’s events on October 24. Though, like everybody else, driving to the Post Office or Transfer Station that morning, or stopping briefly at Ferns, I noticed the signs around town.

Environmentalist and local activist Mike Hanauer listed the events planned in town on the 350.org website, followed by a post on the City in the Woods website, calling community members to join the planned rally. He was “heartened by the fact that there were about 500 people at Concord, about three times what I would have predicted for a rainy day.”

Saying that Carlisleans played a major part in planning and attendance he adds, “Carlisle Climate Action has just signed onto the “Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy” initiative (http://steadystate.org/), which I believe is an excellent start in that direction. Bill McKibben and E.O. Wilson have signed on as well. I have; you can.”

Lowering CO2 emissions is a much needed step; though lacking public transportation (for example) might make it harder to do in Carlisle. Meanwhile, we shall not be asking what our town can do for us, but rather what we can do for ourselves to “green the black.” ∆

Forum staff writers are elected by the board of directors of Carlisle Communications, Inc., publisher of the Mosquito, to provide independent commentary on matters they believe will be of interest to Carlisle citizens.

 

 

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