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Local Government Accountability 2023: How to Operate a Truly Ethical Local Government

By GovPilot

Faith and trust in public United States government institutions is at an all time low. The good news for municipal and county officials however, is that citizens reported the highest levels of trust in their local governments according to a report from the consulting and advisory firm Deloitte.

As stewards of public trust and funds, politicians and government officials, for good reason, are expected to meet high ethical standards. Without fail, constituents will hold local government leadership accountable for any problems that arise in their community. 

As a local leader, you’ll not only need to accomplish important objectives to get re-elected, but will need to do so ethically and with your constituents’ wants and needs in mind. 

Here is your extensive guide to political accountability, the issues your constituents will hold you accountable for, and how you can accomplish important initiatives without forgoing ethics. 

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Why is Government Accountability Important?

Let’s face it; throughout history (in the US and everywhere else) corruption has unfortunately played a major role in governance at all levels. Whether it’s accepting money or gifts to swing a certain way on an issue, deliberately hiring a friend from the private sector for a government project, or making any decision at the expense of community members for political gain, there's no shortage of reasons that constituents are hesitant to trust their government officials. 

However, just because corruption undoubtedly continues to occur in many instances, your local government leadership and employees should feel a moral obligation to accomplish your goals ethically. 

Government accountability is important because your constituents will hold you to a high standard for getting things done and doing them ethically!

How to Manage an Ethical Local Government Operation?

Just like the private sector, good ethics in government stems from the top down. Therefore, it is your responsibility as a local leader to get things done with high moral standards in mind. It also means having procedures in place to ensure that all government employees under your jurisdiction act ethically at all times.

Here are some best practices for maintaining ethical operations in your municipal or county government:

Leaders’ Actions Speak Louder Than Words

As a leader, you set the tone for your government department. By taking the moral high road and making it evident to your government employees that you want to do things the right way, your employees will feel a sense of importance to do the same. 

As explained in an ethical leadership article by BetterUp, “ethical leadership means that individuals behave according to a set of principles and values that are recognized by the majority as a sound basis for the common good. These include integrity, respect, trust, fairness, transparency, and honesty.”

Make Ethics a Key Component of Your Hiring Process

When recruiting government workers, your local government will need to consider the character of any potential new hire before bringing them onboard. In addition to inquiring about their skills and experience, throw in some interview questions related to their ethics and morals and how they relate to your local government’s mission and procedures. 

For more details about local government recruiting, explore the How to Hire Talented Public Sector Employees guide. 

Educate Employees on the Importance of Ethics with Training Sessions and Policies

You’ll need to ensure everyone within your department and community are on the same page when it comes to ethics. That means your municipal department should have written policies related to ethics and required standards to abide by. Make it clear that government accountability not only falls on constituents, but on municipal leaders with their employees as well. 

Pro Tip: Take the time to offer insightful training on the best ethical practices for a public sector employee to abide by.

Monitor Your Employees and Hire Outside Help to Ensure Accountability Standards are Met

If you're a government leader and let employee actions that are ethically questionable slide, your employee won’t be the only one under fire if the unethical behavior is exposed to the public. Your employee evaluations should factor in ethics, and you should also consider hiring outside ethics consultants to evaluate the performance of your local government.

What Types of Things Will Constituents Hold You Accountable For?

Constituents will not only be looking to make sure you and your employees are doing things ethically, but will also be holding your local government accountable for the amount of progress being made in important aspects of your community. 

Here are some of the different facets of your community that constituents will be holding local leadership accountable for when considering how to vote in future elections: 

The quality of local infrastructure

Constituents will be quick to blame the local government for things like potholes in the road, aging buildings and roads, slow internet speeds in public areas, and other infrastructure issues in your community. Your budgeting efforts will need to prioritize the most major physical and digital infrastructure projects and move to get infrastructure improvements completed as efficiently and cheaply as possible.

Pro Tip: Federal legislation like the American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investments and Job Act includes billions to be spent on local infrastructure projects. If you can prove your case for the need for physical or digital infrastructure improvement in your community, you can tap into federal funds to make the necessary improvements. 

Learn more in the guides to ARPA Funds: What They Mean For Your Local Government and the Infrastructure Bill: What It Means For Your Local Government

The amount of time it takes things for government projects to get completed

Even if your local government is proactive in getting infrastructure projects started, your constituents will surely hold you accountable if efforts are slow moving. Leverage technology like online permit filing and mobile inspection software to expedite the processes to the best of your government’s abilities.

When working on projects that will lead to detours, road closures, etc., communicate with constituents on the reasoning for the closure and provide a realistic timeline for when the work will be completed. In keeping communication open and hitting your anticipated deadlines, you’ll keep constituents happy with modern infrastructure and fast implementation of communal projects. 

How emergency & crisis situations are handled

The failure of local governments to quickly adjust their processes during the Covid-19 lockdowns left government bureaucracy moving even more slowly and constituents disappointed in local leadership. The result was a loss in trust in government at a time that government-constituent relations were more essential than ever. 

Moving forward, local governments will need to have ironclad processes in place for a myriad of emergency situations such as natural disasters, cyber attacks, acts of terrorism and school shootings, public health crises, etc. 

In addition to training government workers on how to respond to emergency situations, your local government should offer insightful emergency training for constituents as well. By having everyone in your community as prepared for an emergency situation as possible, constituents will have more faith in your leadership and know how to mitigate tragedy in a crisis situation.

Pro Tip: The FBI recently warned that ransomware cyber attacks are ‘straining’ municipal and county governments, with local governments accounting for the second highest victimized group of 2021. Taking action to move government data to the cloud and training government employees is one of the most important emergency precautions your government can take. Learn more in the guides to Local Government Cybersecurity: Preventing Ransomware Attacks and How to Train Local Government Employees of Cybersecurity

Where taxpayer dollars are being spent

There are endless ways to make improvements to your community. Unfortunately, you have limited funds to work with (that are being provided by your constituents tax dollars nonetheless.)

Make sure that you’re taking the public’s opinion into consideration before allocating funds toward any infrastructure project in your town. Your vision for the future direction of the community should be dictated by your constituents, so that they’re happy with the ways their tax dollars are being spent. 

Pro Tip: Data collected from technology like report-a-concern software will be automatically pulled into insightful charts and graphs, making it simple for your government to dictate which issues are most concerning for your constituents. 

Local economic performance

If your local economy isn’t thriving, you can bet that constituents and local businesses will hold your government accountable. Constituents will be angered if they’re unable to find work to make ends meet, and local business owners will be frustrated if low local economic performance results in a lack of revenue generated. You’ll need to do everything in your power to encourage local economic development

Online business registration will improve government workflows while simultaneously encouraging more businesses to set up shop. Online real estate auctions and short term property rentals can boost the local economy with increased residents and tourism. 

Learn more about how short term rental property renovation transformed the economy of Big Bear Lake, CA in the Short Term Rental Property and Re-Registration Case Study

How convenient is it for constituents to work with your local government

In the era of DoorDash and Uber, Americans have grown accustomed to a great deal of convenience in most major facets of their lives. The bar has risen for your local government to offer convenient procedures, and you’ll be held accountable if your technology isn’t up to a modern standard. 

According to the Deloitte report respondents tended to trust government more if they were pleased with its digital services, including adequate safeguarding of their personal data and easy-to-access web-based platforms for things like service requests or bill payments. Reliable digital services make government agencies feel more accessible to citizens, a key measure of trust among respondents, the report said.

“Citizens tend to trust proximate government more than distant government. By design, digital services make distant services more proximate, creating a direct interaction,” it added. “Because digital is now a first point of interaction for government to generate a positive impression, a positive online experience and secure and user-friendly services can be very important.”

No one wants to drive to the clerk’s department to submit a permit application anymore; nor do they want to go to the courthouse to get transcripts. To make systems more convenient for your  constituents (AND your local government employees,) switch to government management software to digitize your processes and allow constituents to submit applications and download relevant files straight from your government website. If not, they’ll hold your government accountable every time they have to drop their busy schedule to drive over to the clerk’s office to fill out paperwork. 

Local Government Accountability - In Conclusion

Your local government owes it to your constituents to get things done as efficiently and ethically as possible. As a local leader, be sure to practice what you preach when it comes to doing things the ‘right’ way, and be sure to hold government employees accountable for questionable ethics.

Outside of expecting you to do things ethically, your constituents will also be quick to hold your government accountable for practically any issue that might arise in your town. As a result, you’ll need to have a swift game plan for making positive things happen in your community from the moment you’re elected.

With good ethics, a strong course of action, and crystal clear communication with constituents on what’s happening locally and why, local government accountability will have a positive effect on your reputation and your chances of reelection. 

To learn more about how government software can help with getting things done and improving governmental communications, book a demo. 

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Political Accountability FAQS

What is government accountability?

Government accountability (also known as political accountability) is the response of constituents in regards to actions being made on their behalf by elected government officials. Politicians are expected to not only make decisions that will have a positive impact on their community, but are supposed to do so ethically without corruption. 

How to run an ethical government? 

As a leader in your local government, accountability for ethical behavior starts at the top. You’ll need to assess the ethics of potential new hires during the interview process, have procedures in place to make the ethical standards clear, and make it clear that unethical behavior will result in serious consequences. 

How can you gauge the public’s opinion on your performance?

The best way to ensure your hard work is approved by your constituents is to engage and communicate with them regularly. Leverage tools like report a concern software and social media to get direct input from constituents on the issues that matter, and to relay important news about what your local government is working on directly. 

For more helpful resources for making modern improvements to your local government, read on:

Tags: Constituent Engagement, Government Efficiency, Digital Transformation, Blog