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posted: 9/24/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Lake County's model idea for leadership standards

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Two questions come to mind in the wake of the Lake County Board's recent decision to require appointees to scores of boards and commissions to sign a "standard of conduct" pact.

1. What took so long?

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2. Isn't this something that should be applied to other units of government, ranging from townships to village boards?

A pact like this certainly isn't a panacea; it comes with no guarantees. But it does put elected officials as well as hundreds of volunteers and government appointees on notice of the expectations for conduct in these positions.

County and local officials must take steps to ensure this won't become a document that gets a little applause today but is filed away never to be seen again until a problem arises. Once adopted, these standards should be prominently displayed and discussed on a regular basis -- so it becomes a true working code.

The plan announced by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, and later approved by the county board, sets standards in five areas: accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency, efficiency and ethics.

The aim was to create rules that would apply to Lawlor's nearly 300 appointees, most of them volunteers, serving on more than 70 units of government. Some are fairly obscure, such as mosquito abatement districts, while others are higher profile, such as Metra, Pace and the Lake County Board of Health.

"I appoint so many people to so many different things. There's no way we can oversee their day-to-day management," he told the Daily Herald's Mick Zawislak. "But what we can do is set a standard of conduct for things we feel are important when they're serving the county."

Among the requirements are that appointees must notify the county board office of "major events, expenditures, and employment issues." Appointees must disclose any internal or external findings of noncompliance with any law or regulation involving the unit of government and its personnel. Entities have to respond to constituent inquiries as promptly as possible, complete annual Open Meetings Act training and comply with ethics legislation.

There's no single example of a problem that sparked the plan, Lawlor said, but he decided to act in light of recent questions regarding various appointed boards, such as Metra and the Lake County Housing Authority.

He said he'd request resignations from those who don't agree to follow the standards.

It's important to remember these standards should not be exclusive to the Lake County Board.

This concept can be applied to suburban planning commissions, zoning boards and others.

All local elected officials should examine the plan, determine how to tailor it and implement standards that define what is expected of government leaders in whatever capacity they serve.

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