Draft Revisions of the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

[The following represents a major rewrite of sections "C" (Code Procedures) and "D" (Planners Convicted of Serious Crimes) of the "AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct."

In 2014, the AICP's Ethics Committee reviewed the current code to determine how it could be improved to address a wide range of concerns regarding procedures, disciplinary actions, and advisory opinions. The result of this analysis was a document entitled "Alternative Code Process," which was submitted to the AICP Commission for review and approval.

Among the key elements of this new "code process" were:

  • less complexity in the procedures for complaints and charges, which should provide a clearer process for complainants and planners
  • fewer steps for decision making and appeals, which should reduce the length of a typical case
  • greater emphasis on education and remediation, which should lessen the adversarial nature of the current process
  • elimination of the role of a prosecutorial "hearing officer," which should be replaced by an increased role for the Ethics Committee and Ethics Officer
  • increased emphasis on the potential settlement of cases, which should more actively involve the Ethics Committee
  • incorporation of specific levels of discipline, which should include more corrective decisions by the Ethics Committee and Ethics Officer
  • heightened requirements to better inform the Ethics Committee, AICP Commission, and membership of case activity and advisory opinions

In April 2015, the AICP Commission assigned the Ethics Committee the task of revising the code to address these requirements. In October 2015, the Committee finalized its rewrite, which it submitted to the AICP Commission. In January 2016 the Commission made additional revisions and voted to recommend publication of the draft rewrite, in order to solicit formal comments by membership prior to a final vote by the Commission.

Due to the wholesale nature of this rewrite process, it was not possible to create a "redlined" version of the current code with the proposed changes. Instead, prior to each section of the proposed new code, there is a summary of which sections are being replaced in the current code. To see a copy of the current code, please go to www.planning.org/ethics.

Written comments by members should be directed to the Ethics Committee at ethics@planning.org or Ethics Committee, American Planning Association, 205 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1200, Chicago, IL 60601. All written comments are due by March 25, 2016.

C. ADVISORY OPINIONS

[Note: The following sections would replace sections C 1 – C 4 and C 17 of the current Code of Ethics. The proposed revisions would: create a much clearer process for informal advice and formal advisory opinions, provide the Ethics Committee the flexibility to issue "advisory opinions" without a formal inquiry by a member, permit input by membership into these advisory opinions, and provide guidance for the publication of advisory opinions, as well as an annual report to membership.]

1. Introduction

Any person, whether or not an AICP member, may seek informal advice from the Ethics Officer, and any AICP member may seek a formal opinion from the Ethics Committee, on any matter relating to the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. In addition, the Ethics Committee may, from time to time, issue opinions applying the Code to ethical matters relating to planning.

2. Informal Advice

a. Any person with a question about whether specific conduct conforms to the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct may seek informal advice from the Ethics Officer. Any such person should contact the Ethics Officer to arrange a time to discuss the issue.
The Ethics Officer will endeavor to schedule a call promptly and to provide the advice promptly.

b. Informal advice will be given orally. However, the Ethics Officer will keep a record of the issue raised and the advice given.

c. Informal advice is intended to assist the person who seeks it, but it is not binding on AICP. Nevertheless, the Ethics Committee will take it into consideration if the Committee is subsequently called upon to consider a charge of misconduct against a Certified Planner who relied on the advice.

3. Formal Advisory Opinions Requested By A Member

a. Any AICP member with a question about whether specific conduct conforms to the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct may seek a formal opinion from the Ethics Committee. Any such member should send a detailed description of the relevant facts and a clear statement of the question to the Ethics Officer.

b. The Ethics Officer shall review each such request and determine whether there is sufficient information to permit a fully informed response or whether additional information is required.

c. The Ethics Committee will not issue an Advisory Opinion if it determines that the request concerns past conduct that may be the subject of a charge of misconduct. It may also decline to issue an Advisory Opinion for any other reason. The Committee may, but is not required to, provide a reason for a decision not to issue an opinion.

d. If the Ethics Committee determines to issue an Advisory Opinion, it will endeavor to do so within ninety (90) days after receiving all information necessary to the provision of the opinion. Every Advisory Opinion will be in writing.

e. Any member who acts in compliance with a formal Advisory Opinion will have a defense to a charge of misconduct that is based on conduct permitted by the Opinion.

f The Ethics Committee, in its sole discretion, shall determine whether, and how, to publish any formal Advisory Opinion. If the Committee determines to publish an Advisory Opinion, the published Opinion will not, without appropriate consent, include the name or other identifying information of any person except to the extent that identifying information is helpful in setting forth the issue or in explaining the Committee's decision.

g. Any AICP member who believes that a published formal Advisory Opinion is incorrect or incomplete may write to the Ethics Officer explaining the member's thinking and requesting reconsideration. The Ethics Officer shall transmit all such communications to the Ethics Committee. That Committee shall review such communications and determine what, if any, changes to make. The decision of the Committee shall be final.

4. Formal Advisory Opinions Issued Without Request Of A Member

a. The Ethics Committee may from time to time issue, without a request from a member, formal Advisory Opinions relating to the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct when it believes that an Opinion will provide useful guidance to members.

b. All formal Advisory Opinions issued under this paragraph shall be in writing and shall be published to the entire membership.

c. Any AICP member who believes that a formal Advisory Opinion issued under this paragraph is incorrect or incomplete may write to the Ethics Officer explaining the member's thinking and requesting reconsideration. The Ethics Officer shall transmit all such communications to the Ethics Committee. That Committee shall review such communications and determine what, if any, changes to make. The decision of the Committee shall be final.

5. Annual Report of the Ethics Officer

a. Prior to January 31 of each year, the Ethics Officer shall provide to the AICP Commission and to the Ethics Committee an Annual Report of all formal Advisory Opinions and all interpretations of the Code issued during the preceding calendar year. That report need not contain the full text of each formal Advisory Opinion and interpretation of the Code.

b. The AICP Commission shall publish an Annual Report on ethics matters to the membership.

D. ADJUDICATION OF COMPLAINTS OF MISCONDUCT

[Note: The following sections would replace sections C 5 - C16 of the current Code of Ethics. The proposed revisions would: establish a clearer process for the filing of complaints, establish specific timelines for the review of complaints of misconduct, permit the dismissal of cases entirely lacking in merit without needing to notify the accused, eliminate anonymous complaints (while still providing confidentiality), encourage the greater use of investigations and "settlements" instead of formal hearings, create a list of specific disciplinary actions, and permit the Ethics Committee to continue investigations even when the accused resigns their AICP membership.]

1. Filing a Complaint.

a. Any person, whether or not an AICP member, may file an ethics complaint against a Certified Planner. An ethics complaint shall be sent to the AICP Ethics Officer on a form developed by the Ethics Officer and posted on the AICP website. The complaint must be signed and include contact information so that the Ethics Committee and the Ethics Officer will know with whom to follow up if questions arise or if the situation otherwise requires follow up. The person making the complaint ("the complainant") may request confidentiality. The AICP will attempt to honor that request.. However, it cannot guarantee confidentiality and will disclose the identity of the complainant if disclosure is needed in order to reach an informed result or otherwise to advance the thoughtful consideration of the complaint. The complaint may be accompanied by a brief cover letter.

b. The complaint shall identify the Certified Planner against whom the complaint is brought, describe the conduct at issue, cite the relevant provision(s) of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, and explain the reasons that the conduct is thought to violate the Code.

c. The complaint should be accompanied by all relevant documentation available to the complainant.

d. The Ethics Officer shall determine whether the complaint contains all information necessary to making a fully informed decision. If the complaint does not contain all such information, the Ethics Officer shall contact the complainant to try to obtain the information.

e. The Ethics Officer shall maintain, for use by the Ethics Committee, a log of all complaints against Certified Planners.

2. Preliminary Review.

a. The Ethics Officer shall review each complaint, together with any supporting documentation, to make a preliminary determination of whether a violation may have occurred. Before making this determination, the Ethics Officer may request from the complainant any additional information that the Officer deems relevant.

b. Within thirty (30) days after receiving all information that the Ethics Officer deems necessary to make a preliminary determination, the Ethics Officer shall make a preliminary determination whether a violation may have occurred.

c. If the preliminary determination of the Ethics Officer is that it is clear that no violation has occurred, the complaint shall be dismissed. The complainant shall be so notified. The complainant shall have twenty (20) days from the date of notification to appeal the dismissal of the complaint to the Ethics Committee.

d. If the preliminary determination of the Ethics Officer is that a violation may have occurred — or if, on appeal, the Ethics Committee reverses a preliminary dismissal, the Ethics Officer shall, within thirty (30) days, provide the complaint to the Certified Planner against whom the complaint was made ("the respondent"). The Ethics Officer shall request from the respondent a detailed response to the complaint, and any supporting documentation.

3. Fact Gathering

a. The respondent shall have thirty (30) days from the date of notification from the Ethics Officer to provide a response to the complaint, as well as any supporting documentation. The Ethics Officer may extend this time, for good cause shown, for a period not to exceed fourteen (14) days.

b. The Ethics Officer shall provide the response of the respondent to the complainant and shall give the complainant an opportunity to comment on the response within fourteen (14) days.

c. If the Ethics Officer determines that additional information is needed from either the complainant or the respondent, the Ethics Officer shall attempt to obtain such information. The parties shall have fifteen (15) days to provide the requested additional information, with up to a fifteen (15) day extension at the discretion of the Ethics Officer if a request is made for additional time.

4. Exploration of Settlement

a. At any point in the process, the Ethics Officer may, after consultation with the Ethics Committee, attempt to negotiate a settlement of the complaint in accordance with the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

b. The Ethics Committee shall be notified of — and permitted to comment on — any potential settlement at an early stage. Any settlement must be approved by the Ethics Committee before becoming final. Upon approval by the Ethics Committee, a settlement agreement shall be signed by the respondent and, where appropriate, by the complainant.

c. If a negotiated settlement is approved by the Ethics Committee and is signed in accordance with paragraph 4-b, the matter will be concluded, and no further action will be taken by AICP.

5. Decision

a. If neither the Ethics Officer nor the Ethics Committee determines to explore settlement — or if the parties are unwilling to engage in settlement discussions or if a settlement is not reached, the Ethics Officer shall, after considering timely input from the parties, issue a written decision on the complaint. The Ethics Officer, at his or her sole discretion, may determine whether a hearing needs to be held. A hearing will be held by telephone or other electronic means unless all parties and the Ethics Officer agree that it should be held in person. The expenses of each party in connection with any hearing, such as transcripts, travel, and attorneys' fees, will be borne by that party.

b. The Ethics Officer may determine that there is inadequate evidence of an ethics violation and therefore dismiss the complaint. Alternatively, the Ethics Officer may find that there has been an ethics violation. In either situation, the Ethics Officer shall explain the basis for the decision in a written opinion that cites and discusses the relevant provision(s) of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

c. If the decision is that there has been a violation, the Ethics Officer shall impose such discipline as that Officer deems appropriate. The discipline may be: (1) a confidential letter of admonition, (2) a public reprimand, (3) suspension of AICP membership, or (4) expulsion from AICP. The Ethics Officer shall explain the basis for the discipline imposed and may attach such conditions, e.g. requirement to get additional ethics training, as the Officer deems just.

d. The Ethics Officer shall transmit the decision to the Ethics Committee and shall notify the parties of the decision. However, the Ethics Officer may determine not to disclose the remedy to a complainant who is not a member of AICP.

6. Appeal

a. Within thirty (30) days after issuance of the written decision of the Ethics Officer, either the complainant or respondent may appeal the decision to the Ethics Committee by filing a timely written notice of appeal with the Ethics Officer.

b. If an appeal is timely filed, the party filing the appeal shall, within fourteen (14) days, provide the Ethics Officer with a written statement as to the basis for the appeal. The Ethics Officer shall, within ten (10) days, transmit that document to the party against whom the appeal is filed. That party shall have thirty (30) days to provide the Ethics Officer with a written statement of his or her position on the appeal. The Ethics Officer shall transmit all written statements of the parties to the Ethics Committee within ten (10) days after the record is complete.

c. After receiving any timely filed statements of the parties, the Ethics Committee shall issue a written decision on the appeal. Before issuing a decision, the Ethics Committee, in its sole discretion, may consult with the Ethics Officer. The Ethics Committee may also, in its sole discretion, determine whether to hold a hearing at which the parties may present their positions and answer questions posed by the Committee. A hearing will be held by telephone or other electronic means unless all parties and the Ethics Committee agree that it should be held in person. The expenses of each party in connection with any hearing, such as transcripts, travel, and attorneys' fees, will be borne by that party.

d. The Ethics Committee may (1) affirm the decision of the Ethics Officer; (2) affirm the decision but impose a different remedy; (3) vacate the decision of the Ethics Officer and return the case to the Ethics Officer for additional investigation, consideration of different Code sections or issues, or any other follow up; or (4) vacate the decision of the Ethics Officer and issue its own decision.

e. A decision to affirm the decision of the Ethics Officer, to impose a different remedy, or to vacate that decision and to issue the Ethics Committee's own decision shall be final.

f. If the decision is to return the case to the Ethics Officer for follow up, the Ethics Officer may seek to explore settlement or may issue a decision consistent with the decision of the Ethics Committee. Before issuing such a decision, the Ethics Officer may seek additional input from the parties in a manner and format consistent with the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

7. Effect of Dropping of Charges by Complainant or Resignation by Respondent

a. If charges are dropped by the complainant, the Ethics Committee may, at its sole discretion, either terminate the ethics proceeding or continue the process without the complainant.

b. If the respondent resigns from AICP or lets membership lapse after a complaint is filed but before the case is finalized, the Ethics Committee may, at its sole discretion, either terminate the ethics proceeding or continue the process. As in any situation, the Ethics Committee may also determine to file a complaint with the appropriate law enforcement authority if it believes that a violation of law may have occurred.

8. Reporting

a. Any written decision of the Ethics Committee may, at the discretion of the Committee, be published and titled "Opinion of the AICP Ethics Committee".

b. Any written decision of the Ethics Officer shall be referenced in the Annual Report of the Ethics Officer.

E. DISCIPLINE OF MEMBERS

[Note: The following sections would replace sections D 1 – D 4 of the current Code of Ethics. These proposed revisions would: create a set of specific disciplinary actions for ethical misconduct, define more clearly what constitutes a "serious crime," and permit ethical investigations into other forms of misconduct determined to be inconsistent with the professional responsibilities of a planner.]

1. General

AICP members are subject to discipline for certain conduct. This conduct includes (a) conviction of a serious crime as defined in paragraph 3; (b) conviction of other crimes as set forth in paragraph 4; (c) a finding by the Ethics Committee or Ethics Officer that the member has engaged in unethical conduct; (d) loss, suspension, or restriction of state or other governmental professional licensure; (e) failure to make disclosure to AICP of any conviction of a serious crime or adverse professional licensure action; or (f) such other action as the Ethics Committee or the Ethics Officer, in the exercise of reasonable judgment, determines to be inconsistent with the professional responsibilities of a Certified Planner.

2. Forms of Discipline

The discipline available under this Policy includes: (a) a confidential letter of admonition, (b) a public letter of censure, (c) suspension of AICP membership, or (d) revocation from AICP. The Ethics Officer or the Ethics Committee may attach conditions to these disciplinary actions, such as the writing of a letter of apology, the correction of a false statement or statements, the taking of an ethics course, the refunding of money, or any other conditions deemed just in light of the conduct in question.

3. Conviction of a Serious Crime

a. The membership of a Certified Planner shall be revoked if the Planner has been convicted of a "serious crime". Membership shall be revoked whether the conviction resulted from a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, from a verdict after trial, or otherwise. Membership shall be revoked even if the Planner is appealing a conviction, but it will be reinstated if the conviction is overturned upon appeal.

b. For purposes of this Policy, the term "serious crime" shall mean any crime that, in the judgment of the Ethics Committee or the Ethics Officer, involves false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, failure to file income tax returns or to pay tax, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, theft, or physical harm to another.

4. Conviction of Other Crimes

a. Discipline may also be imposed if a Certified Planner has been convicted of a crime not included within the definition of "serious crime," including an action determined by the Ethics Committee or the Ethics Officer to be inconsistent with the professional responsibilities of a Certified Planner.

b. Before any discipline is imposed under this section, the member shall have a right to set forth his or her position in writing to the Ethics Officer. The Ethics Officer shall, in that Officer's sole discretion, determine whether or not to give the member a hearing. The Ethics Officer shall notify the member of the decision.

c. A member who has had discipline imposed by the Ethics Officer shall have thirty (30) days from the date of notification of the adverse decision to file an appeal to the Ethics Committee. The member may do so by filing a timely notice of appeal with the Ethics Officer. The notice shall be accompanied by a statement of the basis for the appeal. The Ethics Officer will transmit any appeal and accompanying notice to the Ethics Committee. That Committee shall determine, in its sole discretion, whether or not to grant a hearing. The Ethics Committee shall, after considering the relevant information, issue a written opinion on the appeal.

5. Unethical Conduct

The forms of discipline set forth in paragraph 2 shall apply to any member who is found to have engaged in unethical conduct in accordance with the procedures established in the Policy on Adjudication of Complaints of Misconduct.

6. Revocation, Suspension, or Restriction of Licensure

a. The Ethics Committee or Ethics Officer shall impose such discipline as the Committee or Officer regards as just if a state or other governmentally-issued professional license of a Certified Planner has been revoked, suspended, or restricted for any reason relating to improper conduct by the Planner.

b. Before any discipline is imposed under this section, the provisions of section 4 (b) and (c) shall apply.

7. Duty to Notify Ethics Officer

a. A member who has been convicted of a serious crime or who has had his or her state or other governmentally-issued professional license revoked, suspended, or restricted for any reason relating to improper conduct by the member shall promptly report the relevant development to the Ethics Officer.

b. Failure of a member to report that he or she has been convicted of a serious crime or has had a professional license revoked, suspended, or restricted for a reason relating to improper conduct by that member may itself result in discipline of that member.

8. Other Conduct Inconsistent with the Responsibilities of a Certified Planner

a. The Ethics Officer shall have the right to discipline any member for any conduct not otherwise covered by this Policy that the Officer determines to be inconsistent with the responsibilities of a Certified Planner.

b. Conduct covered by this section shall include, but not be limited to, a finding in a civil case that the member has engaged in defamation or similar unlawful action, has knowingly infringed the copyright or other intellectual property of another, or has engaged in perjury.

c. Before any discipline is imposed under this section, the provisions of section 4-b and 4-c shall apply.

9. Petition for Reinstatement

a. Any Certified Planner whose membership or certification is revoked may petition the Ethics Committee for reinstatement no sooner than five years from the time of revocation. The Ethics Committee shall determine, in its sole discretion, whether to afford the petitioner a hearing and/or whether to seek additional information. The Committee shall determine, in its sole judgment, whether reinstatement is appropriate and what, if any, conditions should be applied to any such reinstatement. The Ethics Officer shall transmit the reinstatement determination to the Planner.

b. If the Ethics Committee denies the Petition, that Officer shall advise the Planner of the opportunity to file a subsequent petition after twelve (12) months have elapsed from the date of the determination.

10. Publication of Disciplinary Actions

The Ethics Committee, in its sole discretion, may publish the names of members who have had disciplinary action imposed and to state the nature of the discipline that was imposed. The authority to publish shall survive the voluntary or involuntary termination or suspension of AICP membership and certification. The Ethics Committee, in its sole discretion, may also determine not to publish such information or to publish only so much of that information as it deems appropriate.