Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More On Ethics Schmethics

The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy discovers that the proposed ethics ordinance for City-County Councilors will be allowed to engage in self-dealing actions as long as it involves no more than $5,000. O'Shaughnessy writes:

Several committee members said they chose a $5,000 threshold to avoid becoming overly restrictive in a part-time legislative body where members have wide-ranging business interests. "We picked an amount that we thought would be achievable," said Democrat Mary Moriarty Adams, who co-chaired the committee. "But it's always up to the person to abstain."

Adams acknowledged that a council member could choose to vote on a proposal that would directly earn them thousands of dollars. But she said there currently are no limits requiring council members to abstain from votes in which they have a monetary interest.

Republican co-chairwoman Ginny Cain said the provision includes council members' spouses and dependent children. She said the intent, for instance, was to allow a council member's son to mow lawns in the neighborhood without having to investigate whether any neighbors have city contracts.

Cain on Monday said the committee might have to reconsider the phrasing of the ethics code because it was not meant to allow direct benefits. The committee is scheduled to meet May 21.

Bob Elrod, the council attorney, said the new code was not meant to suggest that a small benefit does not constitute a conflict of interest. The point was to place a limit on when a council member would be able to choose whether to vote.

"You would no longer have the choice above that amount," Elrod said.

Elrod said the committee studied other city council ethics codes, but he was not certain that others set a limit on conflict of interest. He said the committee was trying to be consistent with a new statement of economic interest form that calls for disclosure of contracts of more than $5,000.

In other words, all councilors engage in a little self-dealing. Let's just limit the wrongdoing to really big hauls. I'm not sure why that is the only weakness O'Shaughnessy chose to highlight, but there are plenty of other problems with it, some of which I've previously blogged about. As long as I stick less than $5,000 in a councilor's pocket to vote my way, I'll be just fine. Are all you lobbyists taking notes? I see a lot of $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000 one-time consulting fees in the future for some less than ethical councilors. In the final analysis, it really makes no difference what the law says. Indianapolis doesn't have either a federal prosecutor or a local prosecutor who will prosecute public corruption and our local politicians know that too well.

UPDATE: An editorial in today's Star chimes in on the problems with this proposed ethics ordinance:

But the proposed threshold that would force a council member to abstain from a vote -- direct personal gain of $5,000 or more -- is woefully lax.

The ethics proposal also does nothing to address the council's most common conflict of interest: members with dual roles as city employees who vote on issues that affect their day jobs. Several city police officers and firefighters, for instance, have served on the council in recent years. They not only have voted on their departments' budgets but they also in effect have served as their bosses' boss.

Resolving the latter problem is very easy. Enforce the state's constitution, which bars persons from serving in two branches of government at the same time.


I know said...

The wild, wild Midwest!

Diana Vice said...

Mind-boggling. It's enough to make Blago real proud.

Flipper said...

Who sponsored this legislation. Monroe Gray?

Paul K. Ogden said...

$5,000 is not chump change. These councilors aren't pulling down large salaries in their council jobs. Put together a few of thse counseling jobs and you equal your council salary in no time.

artfuggins said...

I believe it is an annual limit of $5000 not.....per job.