Dubuque City Council members have a new list of dos and don’ts.
Council members voted, 7-0, this week to adopt a new code of conduct that lays out in detail the correct behavior and procedures members should follow, both in and out of session.
The City Council has been working on creating a code of conduct since early 2020 and listed it as a city goal last August. The move came after Mayor Roy Buol unsuccessfully sought sanctions against former Council Member Jake Rios after Rios publicly shared materials from closed-session council discussions regarding City Manager Mike Van Milligen’s job performance.
The new code of conduct lays out rules for how council members should approach sharing information online or with the media. It also comes with disciplinary actions the council might take if a member is found to be in violation of the code.
“It certainly gives the council and the mayor a real road map of how to conduct themselves when in office,” Buol said. “It certainly discourages some conduct that we have seen in the past.”
Buol was referring to events in the summer of 2019, when four then-council members accused Van Milligen of misleading the City Council and creating a hostile workplace at Dubuque City Hall and pushed to have him fired. Buol and Council Members Ric Jones and David Resnick stopped that effort.
That year, Rios publicly shared recordings and documents related to a closed session discussing Van Milligen’s performance with media organizations, including the Telegraph Herald. He also shared one of the previously undisclosed documents on social media.
Rios, who did not run for re-election in 2019, argued at the time that he felt it was his duty to reveal the discussions to the public. He did not return messages seeking comment on this story.
None of the council members who supported firing Van Milligen have since remained on the City Council.
Behaviors required of council members in the new code of ethics include not making personal attacks on other members, actively listening to speakers during council meetings and avoiding the use of electronic devices and phones during meetings.
Some items in the code appear to directly rebuke the actions taken by Rios while he was on the City Council.
One section of the code of conduct specifically prohibits council members from making any personal recordings during closed session. The code also gives detailed guidance on how council members should use their social media accounts, including prohibiting the discussion of “items of legal, governmental or fiscal significance that have not previously been released to the public through official channels.”
The code of conduct also specifies sanctions council members might face if they are found to have violated any of the rules.
Specific sanctions would need to be approved by the council and could include public censure, loss of seniority privileges, removal from committee assignments or restrictions on official travel. It also notes that serious infractions of the code could lead to other sanctions by the City Council but does not provide additional details.
City Council members met the new code of conduct with enthusiasm.
Council Member David Resnick said the code provides a guide for new council members to follow, along with providing proper disciplinary procedures for improper behavior.
“This document really spells it out,” he said. “If you are going on in a grievous way, there will be consequences.”
Council Member Danny Sprank pushed for the creation of a code of ethics when he was first elected and said he approved of the final product.
“This was one of my big goals that I wanted to see accomplished during my time on City Council,” he said.
Council Member Laura Roussell said the code provides the council with a way to properly resolve disagreements.
“I think it is a very important tool that all current and future council members understand the importance of integrity and professional conduct,” she said. “We don’t always agree, but we can do so respectfully.”