Put it in Writing Code of Ethics Give Board Members Direction

The sitting president of a Connecticut condo board recently approached the property manager with a proposition: If he saw to it that her contractor boyfriend was awarded certain jobs in the building, the property manager would receive a tidy kickback. Ken Kohnle, working with Elite Property Management, LLC, based in Farmington, Connecticut, ended the relationship with that building. He said it was the “most shocking” of ethical breaches he’d seen in 22 years of business.

The incident merely illustrates a particularly glaring example of the kind of ethical breaches board members need to watch out for—a task that's not always as easy as it might seem. Although the great majority of board members are honest folks who genuinely want to do what’s best for their communities, many have questions about the boundaries, ethics, and procedures that their job entails, and precious few communities actually have a concrete code of ethics that spells out the “dos and don’ts” for board members.

Kohnle said his company has an unwritten rule: “You do things the right way.” But what is the “right way?” And how does one publicize or teach “the right way?”

Ethics Means Morals?

Before discussing how this all applies to condo boards, it may help to clarify basic terms. “Ethics” are not necessarily synonymous with “morals.” Morals generally intersect with religion or upbringing, whereas ethics prescribe behavior in professional settings. A code of ethics is not a legal document. It’s a code of conduct, self-imposed and self-monitored.

Someone once said that, “Ethics are what you practice when no one is around.” Additionally, what is technically legal may not in fact be ethical. For example, it’s not illegal for a contractor to give a case of wine to a board member who decides how contracts in his or her building are awarded, but it is unethical.

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