Ethics and Service



This policy defines the ethical obligations and expectations for all full- and part-time employees of the City of Palo Alto. It includes the Code of Ethics, Ethical Values to help guide decision-making and behavior, and a brief explanation for the overall framework and purpose of the Ethics Policy. This policy and other related information useful for employees, including: (1) more examples and answers to typical questions that may arise, (2) specific rules and obligations, (3) links to other related information sources, and (4) training, can be found on the City intranet-City Connect (See: Stewards of the Public Trust: Ethics and Transparency).

Policy Framework and Definition

ETHICS is a set of well-grounded standards for how we ought to act. Ethics extends beyond what is legal or how we must act, to how we ought to act. From the Greek root Ethos, meaning custom or habit, Ethics in human society exist to guide how we live together as human beings, with a goal of the highest quality relationships we can have with each other, including other life and our natural environment.

The specific purpose of Ethics in government is to ensure the people’s trust and confidence in their government. Ethics is a principles-based decision making process that asks us to be at our best when we make choices, communicate, and take action. When the values of the City are consistently reflected in the quality of our actions and decisions, we are serving as effective stewards of the public trust. We recognize that in a public service organization where a public position is really a public trust, our conduct and ethics have special importance.

Ethical Values

Because Ethics reach beyond rules and law, ethical decision-making requires judgment. The ethical foundation of the City of Palo Alto government requires that all official actions be rooted in the right set of values. Such values help the City foster an environment where every employee is committed to doing the right thing in the right manner for the citizens of Palo Alto.

The following ethical values* advanced by California’s Institute for Local Government provide a foundation for informing and guiding ethical behavior and decision making by City of Palo Alto employees.


  • Trustworthiness
  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Commitment
  • Compassion
  • Fairness

[*Universal Ethical Values: Research by the Institute for Global Ethics identifies ethical values that transcend virtually all cultures and religions. The concept of “integrity” might be understood as endeavoring to honor all these values, in all facets of one’s life, and on a consistent and ongoing basis. CA-ILG Adapted by City of Palo Alto]

Responsibility of All Employees

Ethical behavior, consistent with this Code of Ethics and Ethics Policy, is the responsibility of every employee – whether serving in a full- or part-time capacity. Moreover, each employee is responsible for reporting concerns about possible ethical violations.

All new employees shall be presented a copy of this Code of Ethics as part of their new employee orientation or on-site work orientation process. All current employees shall be given a copy including directions and links related to finding additional information on the City’s Intranet, City Connect.

Employees who have questions about the Code of Ethics or about the appropriateness of an action, should consult with their supervisor or department head. Should more information or a deeper examination of the question be necessary, the employee and/or supervisor or department head should contact the City Manager. If the question relates to State Conflict of Interest or financial disclosures, the employee should seek guidance from the City Attorney’s Office. In those cases where anonymity is necessary, an employee may use the City’s confidential Employee Ethics Hotline (1-855-257-4112).

Code of Ethics

Staff of the City Of Palo Alto are stewards of the public trust and agree to be guided by the following ethical principles, recognizing that the conduct of every member of our organization is essential to effective and democratic local government. Each employee shall:

1. Behave in a professional manner and maintain a constructive, creative, and practical attitude toward local government affairs and a deep sense of social and civic responsibility as a public servant.

2. Be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships.

3. Recognize that the chief function of local government is to serve the best interests of all of the people.

4. Put forth one’s best efforts and fulfill all professional obligations and uphold and implement local government policies adopted by our elected officials or City Manager or Department Director.

5. Communicate and keep supervisors and other staff informed; support communication between citizens and local government officers; emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public.

6. Attend to professional responsibilities and adhere to the City’s ethical values and rules, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.

7. Handle all matters of personnel on the basis of merit so that fairness and impartiality govern decisions pertaining to appointments, pay adjustments, and discipline.

8. Seek no favor; be motivated by service rather than by self-promotion or profit; maintain confidential information; do not misuse public resources, including time.

Stewards of the Public Trust: Ethics and Service
On City Connect

Public Service Ethical Values in the City of Palo Alto


How do core ethical values translate into action in public service? Here are examples of what our Ethical Values can mean in practice. (Adapted from the Institute for Local Government).

I remember that my role is first and foremost to serve the community.
I am truthful with my colleagues, the public, and others.
I avoid any actions that would cause the public to question whether my decisions are based on personal interests instead of the public’s interests.
I do not accept gifts or other special considerations because of my public position.
I do not knowingly use false, inaccurate or biased information to support my position.
I do not use my public position or agency resources for personal or political gain.
I carefully consider any promise I make and then keep it.

I work to improve the quality of life in the community and promote the best interests of the public.
I promote the efficient use of agency resources.
I represent the official positions of the agency to the best of my ability when authorized to do so.
I explicitly state that my personal opinions do not represent the agency’s position and do not allow the inference that they do.
I take responsibility for my own actions, even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
I do not promise that which I have reason to believe is unrealistic.
I give my best analyses, recommendations and effort in my work.
I disclose suspected instances of impropriety to the appropriate authorities, but I never make false charges or charges for political purpose or professional advantage.
I do not disclose confidential information without proper legal authorization.
I am proactive and innovative when setting goals and considering policies.
I consider the broader regional and statewide implications of the agency’s decisions and issues.
I promote intelligent innovation to move forward the agency’s policies and services.

I treat everyone with courtesy and respect, even when we disagree.
I focus on the merits in discussions, not personality traits or other issues that might distract me from focusing on what is best for the community.
I gain value from diverse opinions and build consensus.
I follow through on commitments, keep others informed, and provide timely responses.
I am approachable and open-minded, and I convey this to others.
I listen carefully and ask questions that add value to discussions.
I involve all appropriate stakeholders in meetings affecting agency decisions.
I come to meetings and I come to them prepared.
I work to improve the quality of life in my community.

I safeguard confidential information.
I avoid employment, contracts and other financial, political and personal interests that can conflict with my public duties.
I prioritize competing issues based on objective benefits and burdens to the public interest, not to myself, my family, friends or business associates.
I don’t oppose final decisions once they have been made by the decision makers, except through internal lines of communication.
I put loyalty to the public’s interests above personal, professional and political loyalties.

I realize that some people are sometimes intimidated by the public process and will try to make their interactions as stress-free as possible.
I convey the agency’s care for and commitment to its community members.
I am attuned to, and care about, the needs and concerns of the public, officials, and staff.
I recognize a responsibility to society’s less fortunate.
I consider appropriate exceptions to policies when there are unintended consequences or
undue burdens.

I make decisions based on the merits of the issues.
I honor the law’s and the public’s expectation that agency policies will be applied consistently.
I support the public’s right to know and promote meaningful public involvement.
I support merit-based processes for the award of public employment and public contracts.
I am impartial and do not favor those who either have helped me or are in a position to do so.
I promote equality and treat all people equitably.
I excuse myself from participating in matters when my or my family’s financial interests may be
affected by my agency’s actions.
I credit others’ contributions in moving our community’s interests forward.
I maintain consistent standards, but am sensitive to the need for compromise, creativity and improving existing paradigms.

Further Specific Guidance


Employees should be impartial, and dedicated to the best interests of the City. As a general rule, employees should not engage in or hold any direct or indirect interest in any business or transaction which may conflict with their official duties. Moreover, where an existing financial or personal relationship could create a conflict with a particular decision, employees should avoid recuse themselves from the decision-making process.

Financial conflict and disclosures are closely regulated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). However, public employees’ duty to avoid conflicts extends to all situations that may create divided loyalties. This includes any obligations (financial or personal) which may impair their pursuit of the public’s interest in the discharge of their duties. Finally, because even the appearance of a conflict of interest can undermine the public trust, public employees must be especially mindful of acting in a transparent manner and avoiding perceived conflicts of interest. FPPC: Click
Here. Muni Code 2.09: Click Here.

Outside Employment

When a person accepts employment with the City, that employment is assumed to be his/her primary job. Supplemental outside work is secondary in importance and is subject to approval by the City.

Acceptance of Favors and Gratuities

Employees should not accept money (regardless of amount), favors, or other consideration from anyone other than the City for an act which they would be required or expected to perform in the regular course of their duties. Nor, in general, should employees accept gifts, gratuities, or favors, including travel or meals, from individuals or firms doing business or proposing to do business with the City or seeking City approvals. Any gifts that are accepted pursuant to City policy may need to be reported on an employee’s FPPC Form 700.

Gifts presented to the City (as opposed to individual employees) are subject to separate restrictions and generally must be reported to the FPPC by the Clerk’s office on an annual basis.

Use of Confidential Information

Employees should not disclose confidential information acquired by or available to them in the course of their employment with the City or use such information for personal gain. This applies to improper disclosure within the organization as well as to the public.

Use of City Office, Equipment, and Facilities for Private Gain

Employees shall not use, for private gain or advantage, their City time or the City's facilities, equipment, vehicles, or supplies. Nor should they use or attempt to use their position to secure special privileges or exemptions for themselves or others that are not available to the public. Employees may not be given priority use of City facilities and programs unless it is explicitly permitted in a City approved document (e.g., provided for by an employee group's MOA or an individual employee's contract).

Employees must also refrain from endorsing or creating the appearance of endorsing a particular product, vendor, or service unless providing factual information about a partner in City programs, services or co-sponsored events. This includes the acceptance of honorariums, travel expenses, or stipends to speak on behalf of a private entities’ product or service.

Employees should not use equipment or vehicles for purposes unrelated to their
official duties. Employees may be allowed limited use of office equipment such as a laptop computer or smart phone provided the use complies with the city’s policy on use of office equipment and vehicles.

Communications and Use of Social Media

Communicating consistent and accurate information to the public is vital to building public trust and accountability in the community. Only people authorized or delegated by the City Manager or his/her designee and the Chief Communications Officer may speak as a representative of the City about City business with the press and through social media. Coordination and care should be exercised when speaking at external events, conferences, industry events, tradeshows and other forums. In addition, employees should take care to be sure that their private communications do not inadvertently appear to represent the City’s official position.

Behavior in the Workplace

Employees are responsible to conduct themselves professionally, to enable harmonious and productive work relationships in the workplace, and to deliver excellent services to the public. The City is committed to providing a positive environment for all people, including employees, whether full or part-time, contract or temporary, vendors, and members of the public. Employees should avoid all forms of harassment, including actions, words, jokes or comments based on such characteristics as race, color, religion, national origin, age, physical ability, and sets a higher standard for behavior than is set by law. Employees are expected to be aware of and conduct themselves in accordance with all City policies and attend training as required.



Last Updated: Oct 26, 2017