Council Sorely Tested By Online Ethics Exam

Muddied by a scandal over a City Council member’s alleged sexual harassment this spring, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller did what any leader in his position would: He bought a $60,000 computer program. The city purchased a computerized training course for his staff and for the 51 members of the City Council, complete with tests on issues like ethics and sexual harassment.

But who knew the ethics test was going to be this hard?

The results of the 10-question quiz are not public, but several Council members and staff members owned up to failing the ethics exam on their first try. The only one willing to admit it on the record was Christine Quinn of Manhattan, who passed on her third attempt.

“It was tricky,” she said. “It went beyond the obvious. Nobody got wrong the question of whether you should take a bribe to sway your vote.”

Another member who passed on his second attempt complained that he failed because his answers erred on the side of ethical caution.

“It was trying to explore some nuances that were really unhelpful,” he said.

Mr. Miller told The Observer he passed the test “on my first try,” but added that “some of the issues are challenging.”

Meanwhile, 135 of 637 Council members and staff haven’t taken the ethics training despite the Aug. 27 deadline, said the Council’s communications director, Stephen Sigmund. Among those skipping the training is AllanJenningsofQueens,who sparked the abrupt focus on internal ethics when he was accused of everything from asking staff members to clean his house to harassing a Council lawyer-charges he denies. As of Friday, Mr. Jennings hadn’t taken the exam, a City Council spokesman said, and Mr. Jennings’ office didn’t return a call seeking comment on the test.

Another who hasn’t taken the exam is Margarita Lopez, the East Village Democrat who has been calling for tougher ethical standards in the City Council, and who has introduced legislation that would establish an Office of Workplace Integrity and mandatory training.

Ms. Lopez said she’s boycotting the computerized training.

“If you really want to deal with the issue of ethics, you have to train people person-to-person,” she said. “You can’t just give them a test on a computer.”

Still other Council members seemed less than eager to answer the question. Hiram Monserrate of Queens said he didn’t remember if he’d passed the test on the first try.

“Call me tomorrow, in Queens,” he said, and hurried off to a hearing.

Among those who said they’d aced the test-though there’s no way to check-were David Weprin of Queens; Charles Barron, Mike Nelson and David Yassky of Brooklyn; and James Oddo of Staten Island.

“It was hard-but I passed, I’m proud to say,” Mr. Yassky said. “First try. I’m a good test-taker.”

Mr. Sigmund, the Council’s communications director, said he passed on his second shot.

“If people were challenged by the quiz portion of the module, then that speaks to its seriousness,” he said. “The Council has instituted unprecedented ethics training that’s mandatory, serious and challenging.”

But two Council members who failed the test on their first attempt said they’d been overconfident after acing the sexual-harassment quiz earlier this year. The ethics training is the second of four sections.

“If you couldn’t pass the sexual-harassment test, then you shouldn’t be allowed out on the street by yourself,” said one Council staffer. “I expected this one to be really easy, too.”

This reporter, for his part, flunked the online exam after skimming the training for tidbits like “You have a duty of undivided loyalty to the City.”

He would have been better off, apparently, paying attention to the details of the city’s ethics rules, like the one on moonlighting that states, “If you work through a temp agency, you can not work for more than 30 days total in a 12-month period for a firm doing business with the city.” Also: Don’t take the $100 watch as a gift.

“Using your annual leave to run for mayor,” however, is within the rules.

“Based on your answers, we recommend that you review the following lesson,” the program concluded, highlighting the section on “outside interests and activities.”