A Wauwatosa committee put on hold Tuesday conversations about creating an ethics code for city employees and officials.

A memo drafted by the city's assistant attorney never made it to members of the government affairs committee, which was scheduled to discuss the code Tuesday. As a result, the committee voted to put the item on hold until a future meeting in March.

Under the proposed code, which is still subject to final approval by the Wauwatosa common council, city employees and officials would be subject to ethical standards of conduct and guidelines to 'prevent actions that are incompatible with the best interests of the city' and to ensure government decisions and policy are made in a transparent manner, according to the ordinance.

Officials are held to an existing code of ethics that is enforced under state statutes, said Alderman Matt Stippich.

The city's government affairs committee began talks on establishing such a code in October. Committee members disagreed on when accepting handouts would be within reason — such as a piece of cake at a ribbon-cutting ceremony or when a city worker finished up a 16-hour shift of snowplowing and accepts a free cup of coffee from a restaurant.

The code outlines conduct standards, ranging from what employees and officials can accept as gifts to how such officials would be punished if found in violation.

Officials and employees are prohibited from accepting anything of value, as defined in the ordinance, for personal benefit, while acting in their official position with the city.

'If the item's value exceeds $20.00, the employee may report such to his supervisor or department head and the official may report such to common council who may approve its acceptance upon determining no conflict of interest exists,' according to a draft of the ethics code.

It's expected the committee will revise the proposed ordinance before it's finalized.

What constitutes conflict of interest for officials is also outlined in the ordinance.

'No official shall use her or his public position to obtain financial gain or anything of value for the private benefit of herself or himself or her or his immediate family or an organization with which the official is associated,' the ordinance said.

Any employee or official who is offered or furnished anything of value, as defined in the ordinance, may refuse the item, recuse themselves from the matter or return the item to the payer within 30 days of accepting it. If it's not possible for the item to be returned, it will be donated or given to the city treasurer.

Those who have knowledge of a violation or suspects a violation should report it to the city attorney 'as soon as possible and shall cooperate in any investigation,' under the code. The city attorney would be responsible for enforcing the code, conducting investigations of violations when necessary and referring verified matters to the common council.

'A violation of any part of this code shall be subject to forfeiture of not less than $100 and not to exceed $1,000, payable to the city treasurer,' according to the ordinance.

A violation could also be subject to censure, discipline, suspension and termination, according to the ordinance.

The government affairs committee is expected to discuss the ethics code at a meeting March 22.

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