Trust is everything when it comes to maintaining a solid financial foundation for your community. People need to be able to believe what they hear about a local government's finances. They need to believe that local leaders have the community's best interest at heart. If people are to contribute resources to the local government, they need to trust those resources will be transformed into something of value.
Trust in public finance starts with trust in the finance office. To learn more about how finance officers can enhance their trustworthiness, GFOA surveyed the members of two large state/provincial GFOA associations. (1) We asked these members to identify other finance officers in their state/province that they thought were particularly trustworthy. We then did face-to-face interviews with the finance officers that received the most nominations. We sought to learn the behaviors they engaged in that helped them to build trust with others.
We then organized our findings into the five elements of trustworthiness suggested by the GFOA's Code of Ethics (www.gfoa.org/ethics), which is focused on enhancing the trustworthiness of the local government finance office. In this article, we will focus on the first of these five elements, integrity and honesty.
MANAGE PUBLIC FINANCES HONESTLY AND TRANSPARENTLY
Given that you have decided to read an article about how to build trust, you are probably honest--although most other people probably aren't willing to simply assume that is so. In fact, only one-third of Americans think that most people can be trusted, compared to two-thirds in the 1970s. (2) The implication is that we have to prove that we are honest to most people. However, how we go about proving it matters. Psychological research shows that when we judge an extended experience with something or someone, we actually ignore most of the experience and base our judgment on a few "peak moments"--the high points, the low points, and transitions (i.e., beginnings and endings). (3)
In other words, a finance office that quietly goes about its work and keeps a low profile will probably not be seen as dishonest, but it will probably not be seen as particularly honest or trustworthy, either. What we learned from our interviews is that highly trusted finance officers were involved in high-profile and memorable events, which they handled in a way that bolstered their reputations.
One finance director established their reputation by taking a zero-tolerance policy toward unethical behavior. For instance, the director of another department had a car allowance but was also was charging gas to the local government's purchasing card...