With the purpose of holding themselves to a higher standard, Sugar Land City Council members approved revisions to the Sugar Land Code of Ethical Conduct during a regular City Council meeting on Dec. 6.

The code of conduct governs the actions of City Council members and provides a basis for conduct as elected officials. The first code of conduct was established in 2005, and an independent ethics review board, along with the current Code of Ethical Conduct, was established in 2017, following the recommendations of a 2016 task force, according to city officials.

After a review of the code of conduct, the board recommended four primary changes:
  • Create a requirement that the code of conduct is to be reviewed every five years, mirroring the requirement that the city charter be also be reviewed every five years
  • Define the difference between financial and personal benefit
  • Extend the period in which former council members are forbidden from entering into significant contracts with the city from 13 months to 24 months
  • Create a requirement that, if an official is accused of wrongdoing and requests a “name clearing hearing,” that official would be required to submit a copy of the alleged complaint without naming the accusing party
Additionally, the board recommended adding a paragraph in Chapter 2, Article IV, that outlined the “principles of conduct and ethical behavior.” One line from that addition raised some eyebrows among City Council members, as it told elected officials to “avoid any reasonable appearance of impropriety.”

At-large Position 1 Council Member William Ferguson said he was skeptical of the addition.

“In the age of social media, I can only imagine what this means,” he said during the Dec. 6 meeting.

Several other council members echoed his concern.

However, officials from the ethics review board provided an example, citing a case from New York in which a council member had voted on a zoning agreement for a family member that indirectly benefited him.

All changes were approved by the City Council unanimously despite objections.

The full ordinance can be found here.