The relationship between public officials and the public has been described by scholars as fiduciary in nature.(See e.g. Rave, 2013; Leib, Ponet & Serota, 2013; Ponet & Lieb, 2011; Natelson, 2004)So what is a fiduciary? Dictionary.com defines the term fiduciary as relating to, “a person to whom property or power is entrusted for the benefit of another.”
There at least four factors that identify a relationship as a fiduciary one:
The beneficiary has delegated authority to the fiduciary to act on its behalf; The fiduciary has discretionary powers over the beneficiary’s assets or interests; The fiduciary is in a position superior to that of the beneficiary due to specialized access, knowledge or ability; and The beneficiary trusts that the fiduciary will act in the beneficiary’s best interest. (Ponet & Leib, 2011.)
The concept that government officials have special ethical obligations to the public is actually quite old.In Ancient Greece Plato called for death for public officials who took bribes. (Laws, 12.955d) In 1215 King John of England signed Magna Carta, which promised among other things, “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” (Magna Carta, cl. 40) In 1254 King Louis the IX of France promulgated conflicts of interest rules for provincial governors in the Grande Ordonnance Pour la Réforme du Royaume. (Davies, Leventhal, & Mullaney, 2013)
In 1776, our Declaration of Independence acknowledged the concept of delegated authority, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." (U.S., 1776)
According to U.S. constitutional historian Robert Natelson many delegates attending the constitutional convention of 1787 advocated for a fiduciary form of government, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.Madison argued, for example, that senators ought to be guardians of justice and the general good, while Hamilton envisioned that members of the House of Representatives would be guardians of the “poorer orders.”Natelson notes that the concepts of fiduciary government were also held by the states charged with ratifying the new convention. Maryland representatives literally declared themselves to be the trustees of the public. (Natelson, 2013)
Turning to present day government, what ethical duties flow from the public fiduciary relationship?As noted by legal scholars David Ponet and Ethan Lieb, “Because fiduciaries are difficult to monitor and have wide access to power over beneficiary resources and assets, fiduciaries are under rigorous obligations that ensure compliance with their role responsibilities.” (Ponet & Leib, 2011) So, what are those obligations in the government context?
The duty of care; The duty of loyalty; The duty of impartiality; The duty of accountability (Ponet & Leib, 2011; Natelson, 2004); and The duty to preserve the public’s trust in government (Wechsler, 2013).
Exposure to pesticides has been shown to have profound effects on human health, particularly for children, the elderly, and people who are medically fragile. Pets are also particularly vulnerable. As a fiduciary who is responsible for acting in the best interest of your community members, it is important for you to understand these risks and the potential liabilities related to pesticide use.