City staff propose changes to ethics policies, creation of ethics board in response to conflict of interest issues

After a tumultuous process for allocating this year’s Community Development Block Grant funds, there was discussion about revamping the process to reduce the potential for conflict of interest and creating additional training for members of all city boards, commissions, committees and councils.

On Tuesday, City Commissioners will consider a resolution requiring those members to participate in training on principles of good governance.

They’ll also consider on first reading and set a public hearing for Oct. 3 on proposed changes to the section of city code pertaining to personnel and administration.

Most of the changes will correct typos, inconsistencies and formatting issues but substantive changes include a requirement that all city public officers, including city board and commission members and elected officials to file a disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest with the city clerk’s office.

The proposed code change would also establish an Ethics Committee, which would consist of three independent resident members, appointed by the City Commission, for not more than three consecutive three-year terms. The committee would work in conjunction with the city attorney’s office to resolve any actual or potential conflicts of interest involving city officials.

These changes are being proposed in response to conflict of interest issues in this year’s CDBG funding allocations.

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The trouble began when the city board that makes funding recommendations did not recommend funding for Paris Gibson Square, where Commissioner Tracy Houck is the director. Houck then penned a letter to Craig Raymond, city planning director, alleging a conflict of interest issue against the Community Development Council chairwoman, who had previously been an employee of Houck at Paris Gibson Square.

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That created a conflict of interest issue in the process and at another meeting on the CDBG allocations, Commissioner Fred Burow made comments on the PGS request during the board comment period. Since he was not a member of the CDC board, that created an additional procedural error.

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Based on those problems, the City Attorney reconvened the CDC and directed them to redo the portion concerning the public facilities funding.

These proposed ordinance changes are in direct response to the issues that came up in these year’s process.

Staff presented the proposed changes to commissioners during their Sept. 5 work session and during that meeting, Burow suggested making training a requirement.

Staff has previously offered training opportunities and agrees training is appropriate “given their participation in local government and influence on policy and resource allocation decisions,” according to the staff report.

The resolution would establish a requirement that all members of city boards, committees and councils participate in training during their terms of appointment or at least every two years, whichever is less.