News stories recently published in The Washington Post and other media have reported that Tom Kawczynski, a town manager in Jackman, Maine, has publicly promoted white separatism and “pro-white” views, objectified women, suggested that the United States would be better off if people of different races “voluntarily separate,” and implied that Islam has no place in U.S. society.
Mr. Kawczynski, who was fired this week by a unanimous vote of the Jackman Board of Selectmen, is not a member of ICMA, and we have condemned the views he has expressed in the media reports in this statement, which we will disseminate broadly through all of ICMA’s media channels.
As we hope you’ll agree, Mr. Kawczynski’s opinions are antithetical to everything that ICMA, as an organization dedicated to strengthening professional local governance around the world, stands for. As ICMA members, we are dedicated to increasing equity, diversity and inclusion and to leadership in a management structure committed to equity, transparency, integrity, stewardship of public resources, political neutrality, and respect for the rights and responsibility of elected officials and residents. This commitment strengthens democratic local governance.
From an ethical perspective, local government managers have a duty to conduct themselves personally and professionally in a way that builds trust with the public that they serve and their employees and elected officials. They also have a responsibility to serve the best interests of all people. Clearly, in this, Mr. Kawczynski fails.
As a profession, appointed local government managers must have zero tolerance for views that sow division, mistrust, and extremism and that fly in the face of our commitment to the ICMA Code of Ethics, the set principles that serve as the foundation for the local government management profession.
We want to take a moment to reinforce the role of ICMA members in upholding the Code of Ethics by reporting or at least inquiring about unseemly conduct and to explain what ICMA would do if the town manager were an ICMA member. All members subscribe to the Code of Ethics, and formal rules of procedure govern the enforcement process. If ICMA received a complaint about the individual member’s reported statements, that complaint would be referred to the Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) of the ICMA Executive Board. The CPC, in turn, would likely ask a committee of state association members in Maine to determine the facts of the case.
Based on the facts reported by the state-based group, the CPC would determine whether the member’s conduct violated the Code of Ethics. If the CPC determines that the member violated one or more tenets of the Code, it may issue one or more sanctions: private censure, public censure, membership suspension, expulsion or membership bar, and revocation of the ICMA Credential.
The ICMA Code of Ethics contains several tenets that would apply to Mr. Kawczynski’s reported conduct, were he a member of our organization:
“Tenet 2: Affirm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by government and maintain a constructive, creative, and practical attitude toward local government affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant.
“Tenet 3: Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.
“Tenet 4: Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all of the people.
“Tenet 7: Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators….” A guideline to the tenet says: “Members share with their fellow citizens the right and responsibility to voice their opinion on public issues. Members may advocate for issues of personal interest only when doing so does not conflict with the performance of their official duties.”
“Tenet 11: Handle all matters of personnel on the basis of merit so that fairness and impartiality govern a member’s decisions, pertaining to appointments, pay adjustments, promotions, and discipline.”
Mr. Kawczynski has a right to free speech and personal opinions. But his opinions don’t align with the responsibilities he has as a public official with an ethical and legal responsibility to serve the public, and they have no place in professional local government.
Marc A. Ott