The Merced Irrigation District board of directors on Tuesday adopted new ethics rules for itself and a new employee handbook for the district.
The new handbook will govern everything from harassment policy and Internet conduct to hair color and a dress code.
MID staff and board members said the new rules aren't a reaction to several recent harassment cases or past board conduct.
"This is a wonderful step for the district," said MID's board president, Wil Hunter. "The board wanted to make sure that it was up to snuff on the ethics and so forth."
The board's ethics rules run the gamut from conflicts of interest to the responsibilities of public office and will act as a guideline for correct behavior.
While the new rules spell out many items, they didn't clearly point out if past conduct by the board was appropriate ethically.
For example, the new rules didn't make it clear if director Suzy Hultgren's failure to recuse herself from voting to hire her cousin, MID general manager John Sweigard, was appropriate. The new rules also didn't make clear if it was inappropriate for Hunter to hire a friend of his, Jim Zopolos, for MID's executive search.
Hunter has denied there were any conflicts of interest in either case.
The new 61-page employee handbook was the brainchild of the district's staff and will be a guide to a wide range of behavior and policies, from paid leave to sick time.
MID's general manager, Sweigard, said the new handbook isn't a reaction to several harassment and discrimination lawsuits, but simply an attempt to bring MID's rules in line with what's common among professional associations. "I felt it needed a revision," he said.
Some of the changes include a media policy directing all requests for information to the general manager. "We do want to make sure that we have control over what's leaving MID," said Sweigard.
Other changes include a specific dress code limiting revealing and casual attire, among other provisions. The new policies also dictate appropriate hygiene, including hair color -- within natural shades -- and the covering of tattoos.
The handbook also spells out what is and isn't appropriate behavior. For example, it said that using electronic communications to expose others to inappropriate material isn't appropriate. It also pointed out that relationships between subordinates and their bosses will be discouraged.
Sweigard declined to comment on each particular change made to the handbook, although he did offer a copy of the old handbook for comparison.
In other MID news, two new management positions have been filled recently. Jennifer Carter is the director of administrative services, and Kenneth Lee is the new finance director.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.