It's not unusual for a company to spell out in writing the behavior it expects from its employees -- from mail room workers all the way up to executives.

That's so there's no misunderstanding if someone runs afoul of the rules.

Didn't know screaming at coworkers is a no-no? Well, you should have. It's right there in black and white.

Unclear what constitutes a conflict of interest? Page 36.

Abuse of authority? Chapter 1.

So the York County Commissioners are in good company by proposing the county's first code of conduct for elected and appointed officials, covering everything from "common sense" prohibitions against threatening others to rules on accepting gifts.

However, private sector employers most likely have two things the county commissioners lack when it comes to dictating behavior -- authority over all of employees and penalties for violations. County commissioners aren't in charge of everyone on the county payroll, such as each of the county's 10 row officers: the clerk of courts, clerk of orphans' court, controller, coroner, district attorney, prothonotary, recorder of deeds, register of wills, sheriff, and treasurer.

Acting county solicitor Don Reihart said row officers operate under Section 1620 of the County Code, and they are in charge of their own "destiny, employees, and duties."

Also, the code applies only to leadership and not to the county's union employees, he said.


Basically, it affects only those department heads and others the commissioners themselves supervise -- but even then the code doesn't provide penalties for those who don't comply.

Reihart said there are no penalties spelled out because there are already laws to address ethical breaches and other illegal behaviors. And those affected are at-will employees who can be fired for just about any reason at all.

All of which leaves us wondering why a code of conduct is even necessary.

President Commissioner Steve Chronister said he suggested the policy "because of some things that happened in the past few years with managers who managed by intimidation" -- although he wouldn't name names or say if those managers still work for the county.

It seems there are plenty of options already available for dealing with such behavior -- including impeachment of abusive row officers, Clerk of Courts Don O'Shell pointed out.

O'Shell wasn't too keen on the commissioners treading into his affairs.

"I don't know what they're trying to do," he said. " ... We work for the people of York County and if we fail the people of York County ... we can be taken out of office."

At the very least, the county commissioners should have made an effort to get all of the row officers on board and collaborated with them on the code of conduct, including consequences for violating it.

It might have gone over better than simply presenting them with the code, implying the commissioners can dictate to the row officers -- even if the rules are good ones.