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Thread: Do conflicted officials have any voice?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Do conflicted officials have any voice?

    When a member of the government has a concern about, say, a project in which a family member has some interest, where is is his opportunity to give input to decision-makers about it? He hopefully will not deliberate or vote on the item, and may, in some municipalities, be asked to leave the room during its consideration. What do you think: When and to whom can he ethically speak his concerns? Can he speak to the public about it? Other affected parties? If he is an elected official, can he speak before the appointed planning board about it? Or has he given up his right to speak on such an issue as a citizen when he was sworn in to his position?

  2. #2
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    If there is a conflict of interest, it's best if the official abstains from any discussion on the matter. It just looks bad if there is any involvment at all.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mallen's avatar
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    It is a prickly position, but I do not think they have lost all ability to participate in their community. Heck in very small towns, nearly every member is related to someone.

    It kind of depends on the type of decision, but I am assuming you are probably refering to a zoning decision given this forum. But, they absolutely should not participate in any debate or discussion. I also don't think they should be with the voting members at the dais (for fear of appearance and intimidation). However, I do think they have the "right" to speak publicly at the podium or whereever the general public presents.

    Although they have the "right", not every right needs to be exercised. Discretion is the better part of valor. If Councilmember Smith has a 95 year old mother that is getting a special use permit for a carport, Councilmember Smith has the right (and somewhat of a moral obligation) to go up to the podium and explain what is going on and represent his/her mother. However, if Councilmember Smith's brother is rezoning a 100 acre tract for a shopping center, Councilmember Smith has a "right" to speak in public forums like everyone else, but is probably better served by stepping aside completely. Like the other poster said, appearance is everything.

    The real sticky question is how Councilmember Smith handles one-on-one conversations with the rest of the Council outside of public forums.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Hmmm. Thank you both. I have been pondering rules for such situations, and have run across quite a contrast in municipal policies. They vary as follows, once the member has declared a conflict in a zoning approval: 1. he refrains from discussion but may still choose to vote; 2. he remains silent and abstains; 3. he moves to the opposite side of the table and speaks only as a member of the public (or sometimes, as applicant); or 4. he leaves the room entirely (I left out the one where he declares his conflict and then proceeds to discuss freely and vote, although I know that is the policy in some places!). I think if rules are adopted and followed to the letter, there is less likelihood of public suspicion, but do any of you have comments about which of the above is best? Or whether/how the degree or value of interest should be considered?

  5. #5

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    I think the only prudent thing for a conflicted member who has an application to do is to retain someone as a representative and leave the room. I think this is true even if it is the special use permit for his mother's carport. As for Mallen's query about ex parte communication -- decision-makers have a responsiblity to refrain from it and community members have a responsibility to respect that.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Of course, a representative, duh. Thank you, Lee Nellis.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mallen's avatar
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    It probably depends on your relevant state laws to some degree. My state (Georgia) has statewide legislation that addresses conflict of interest. It is relatively thorough, but it does leave some details up for debate. For example, what exactly does "disqualify" mean? It goes to your questions.

    When unusal situations arise, we obtain a formal Opinion Letter from our City Attorney. As a planner, I would not want to write local policy for such a sensitive political issue. I would leave that up to the City Attorney. In addition to state law, there are also probably relevant state court cases that should be considered.

    But I still believe that elected officials have not entirely lost all of their ability to participate. But they must do it out in the open, just like any other citizen. Oftentimes it is best not to exercise this right, but I believe they still have it to a certain extent.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    In Utah, certain conflicts must be revealed in sworn statements, but it goes no further. The code's silence on the matter is often taken as permission to participate and vote once a conflict has been declared. This is why many cities have adopted local policies.

    Quote Originally posted by mallen
    But I still believe that elected officials have not entirely lost all of their ability to participate. But they must do it out in the open, just like any other citizen. Oftentimes it is best not to exercise this right, but I believe they still have it to a certain extent.
    I agree- and barring the representative solution, he should be made to wear a funny hat as a constant reminder of his conflict.

  9. #9
         
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    One of our Councilpersons just voted with regards to their own recall Nothing surprises me here anymore. Conflicts? What conflicts...

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jaxspra
    One of our Councilpersons just voted with regards to their own recall Nothing surprises me here anymore. Conflicts? What conflicts...
    The biggest realtor/developer in the area who owns many acres of prime real estate sits on our planning commision. Not only does he vote, he gets wind of possible developments before other land owners. I would say he has a loud voice.

    As Jax said "Conflicts? What conflicts?"

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I was always taught to respect how it might look and bow out even if you loose you voice in the matter. A representative would be the best.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

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