Source: Sherman Publications

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City debates Conflict of Interest Ordinance revision

by Mary Keck

September 19, 2012

A revision of the City's Conflict of Interest Ordinance saw its first reading on September 10, but it wasn't popular with everyone attending the meeting.

The City's current ordinance doesn't allow council members to discuss topics or vote if they have a conflict of interest. If the ordinance is changed, a person with a conflict of interest still won't be able to vote, but could engage in the conversation only if they move from their seat at the council table and sit with those in attendance.

Councilman Mike Sabol, who is heading up the ordinance revision, feels council members "should have a right to speak and to their opinion" even if they admit to having a conflict of interest, but not everyone on the council agrees.

"I don't feel that there is anything to be gained by changing this ordinance," said Councilman Stephen Hargis. If someone on the council has a conflict of interest, Hargis feels, "they should not be involved in the deliberation."

Steve Arkwright, who was mayor when the Conflict of Interest Ordinance was established on May 24, 2010, agreed with Hargis.

"Somebody that has a conflict that's on the council shouldn't speak, shouldn't participate at all because they are supposed to be representing the city, not any other entity," Arkwright said.

Unlike Arkwright, Councilman Tom Hunter, who helped to draft the original ordinance, was in favor of the proposed changes.

Hunter described a scenario in which a councilman might have a problem on his private property. "If the council took up that problem, he'd have to exclude himself and would be precluded from arguing his case," Hunter explained. "Even though I wrote this language, when I thought about that particular set of facts that seemed to be a little unfair."

From Arkwright's perspective, the council loses credibility if a member with a conflict of interest speaks. "Don't we want the highest level of credibility we can have?" Arkwright asked.

Sabol feels the city's integrity would not be negatively impacted by an ordinance change. He also thinks limiting speech may cause residents who are interested in running for council to opt out of the race. In a city with approximately 800 residents, Sabol is worried the pool of council candidates may be slim if people think they won't be able to join the discussion.

The City hopes to hold a second reading of the Conflict of Interest ordinance revisions at their next meeting on September 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Village Hall.