ICC Tightening Rules to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

Julie Ruth
August 1, 2009
COLUMN : Code Arena | Codes & Standards

We Chicagoans are, unfortunately, all too aware of the perks expected by some elected government officials. Whether its exotic trips or payment for a truck driver’s license or a vacated Senate seat, we don’t have to go back to the days of Al Capone to find crooks in Illinois.

Of course this is not unique to Chicago. Nor is the expectation unique to elected officials. Stories about jurisdictions where the right to sell a product had to be bought are, unfortunately, all too common.
In contrast to this, and perhaps because of the awareness of it, there are those code officials who quite meticulously avoid any situation that could be construed as them having accepted a gift from industry. I recall a code official who insisted on paying for his meal during a business lunch I had set up a few years ago with him and several members of our industry to discuss a specific set of code change proposals. Had I known he was a strict vegan I would have asked for some substitutions to the deli buffet that was offered. I certainly did not expect him to pay $14 for two slices of bread and a slice of tomato.

A colleague told a similar story recently about a code official he shared a cab with from an ICC conference hotel to the airport. Upon arrival at the airport my colleague paid the full cab fare, against the code official’s protestations. The next week he received a check in the mail from the code official for his half of the cab fare.

In a previous column I reported that an appeal had been filed against certain proceedings at the ICC hearings in Minneapolis last fall. Allegations were made that some ICC active members (government representatives) accepted gifts of “scholarships” to help cover the cost of their attending the ICC hearings, from advocates of certain code change proposals. Although the subject of the appeal was action taken on a code change that will require fire protection sprinklers in residential construction, the offering of scholarships was not unique to this issue. They are also offered to facilitate code official’s attendance for the final action hearings of the International Energy Conservation Code, and the energy provisions of the International Residential Code.

As I noted, there is nothing in the ICC’s current procedures that would prohibit the awarding of these scholarships by advocates of certain code change proposals, or the acceptance of these scholarships by active members of the ICC who have the final vote on the ICC proposals.   The ICC board of directors, however, is now taking action to address these concerns. Based upon recommendations by the ICC appeals board and the president’s advisory committee, the ICC board has issued two new council policies, and revised a third. The board will also recommend changes to the ICC bylaws to the ICC membership for vote during ICC upcoming annual business meeting in November.

A summary of the new council policies, and the revision to the existing one follows:

  • New Council Policy 36-09 Sponsorship and Contributions. This prohibits contributions of financial assistance to governmental member representatives unless such contributions are made through the ICC, its subsidiaries or a regional, state, or local chapter of the ICC, or a local, state or federal unit of government. Financial assistance includes the payment of expenses. Furthermore, a governmental member accepting contributions of financial assistance from industry or other economic interests shall only do so by action of its elected governing body or chief administrative authority. Donations of technical services, however, in support of a governmental member’s jurisdictional business activities are acceptable. 

    In other words, if you want to spend time educating a code official on a specific issue of the code that is relevant to your product, that's okay. If you want to provide a code official with lunch, however, you can only do so through the governing body or chief code official that has employs them.

    The new policy also gives the ICC board the authority to address violations in any manner it feels is appropriate. This can include, but is not limited to, suspending the member’s privileges and benefits.
  • New Council Policy 37-09 Ethics establishes guidelines for the conduct of all members, member representatives, and participants in ICC activities. These guidelines include maintaining integrity and professionalism, and avoiding conflict of interest.
  • Addition of Section 5.0 Chapter Responsibilities to Council Policy #10-04. Governing the conduct of ICC chapters, this section establishes the welfare of the public in the built environment as the chapter’s highest priority. It also defines conflicting activities as activities that conflict with the purposes and principles of the ICC, such as accepting contributions that are conditional upon the support or opposition of any business that is to be placed before the ICC and acquiring governmental member representative voting designation for individuals who are not governmental employees or public officials actively engaged in the administration, formulation or enforcement of construction codes.

The proposed bylaw changes are based upon the premise that government is honest, government is diverse and representation should be inclusive. Among other revisions, the changes would require all voting representatives of a government member to be designated in writing by the chief administrative authority of that government member.

The new and revised council policies, and the proposed changes to the ICC bylaws can be viewed at www.iccsafe.org.

 

Code Arena is brought to you by the America Architectural Manufacturers Association. Julie Ruth may be reached through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at julruth@aol.com.