Friday, July 24, 2015

West Buechel's ethics code

Overview
City Ordinance 150 (1994) established a written code of ethical conduct and financial disclosure for those individuals acting in an official City capacity. The purposes of the Ordinance are contained within Section 3.
  • That the ethical standards are clear.
  • That the ethical standards be applied uniformly.
  • That the ethical standards are enforceable.
  • To advise those subject to the ethical standards about potential conflicts of interest in advance.
Code of conduct
There are seven broad categories covered by the ethical standards
  1. Conflict of interests in general (Section 5) and conflict of interests in contracts (Section 6)
  2. Receiving gifts (Section 7) or speaking fees (Honoraria – Section 10)
  3. Use of City property, equipment and personnel. (Section 8)
  4. Advocating for the benefit of outside interests (Section 9)
  5. Misuse of confidential information (Section 10)
  6. Nepotism (Section 18)
  7. Financial disclosures (Sections 12 – 17)
Enforcement procedure
Primary responsibility for enforcement of the ethical standards belongs to the Board of Ethics created in Section 19. The Ethics Board has certain continuing obligation to collect and maintain financial disclosure statements from covered City officials and political candidates. In addition, and among other powers, the Ethics Board has the responsibility to receive and administratively adjudicate complaints that City officials or employees have violated the ethical standards established by the Ethics Ordinance, as outlined previously.

Ethics complaint procedure (Section 22)
Complaints must be in writing, signed by the person making the complaint and filed with the board.
Within 10 day of receiving a complaint, the Board must deliver a copy to the City officer or employee against whom the complaint is made, along with “a general statement of the applicable provisions of this ordinance.”

The individual against whom the complaint is made shall be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations in the complaint

Within 30 days after the receipt of a complaint; the Board shall conduct a preliminary inquiry. The subject of the complaint shall have the right to appear in person, to offer testimony or other evidence, and to be represented by counsel.

The purpose of the Board’s preliminary inquiry is to eliminate insignificant, frivolous or irrelevant complaints. Specifically,
  • Jurisdiction. To determine if the nature of the complaint falls within the type and scope of the ethical standards set out in this ordinance
  • Factual sufficiency. To determine if the complaint alleges “a minimum factual basis to constitute a violation” of the ethical standards set forth in the ordinance.
If the behavior complained about falls outside the ethical standards established in the ordinance (jurisdiction), or if the complaint is “frivolous or without factual basis,” the Board shall “immediately terminate the inquiry.”  (Section 22 D)

In order for an ethics complaint to move past the preliminary inquiry, the Ethics Board must be satisfied that minimally sufficient factual evidence supports the claim that a specifically prohibited conduct occurred, involving conflict of interest, nepotism, gifts, financial disclosure, the use of City property, outside advocacy or misuse of confidential information.

After the preliminary inquiry, if the Board concludes the complaint presents a sufficient factual basis of a prohibited conduct, it has two options: (Section 22 E)

  1. Issue a confidential reprimand if the violation is minor.
  2. Conduct a full public hearing on the alleged violation.

Public Hearing
In the event the Board finds sufficient justification to conduct a full public hearing upon the alleged Ethics Code violation, Section 23 of the ordinance sets forth the notice requirement and Section 24 outlines the hearing procedure.

Standard of proof.
Section 24 H specifies the standard of proof required to establish a violation of the Ethics Code to be “clear and convincing.”

Remedies
Section 24 H also sets out the possible outcomes for a clear and convincing Ethics Code violation:
  1. Cease and desist order
  2. Public reprimand
  3. Recommendation of discipline, dismissal or removal from office.
  4. A civil fine up to $1000
  5. Refer the matter to proper authorities for possible criminal prosecution.
Appeal
An appeal of the Ethics Board decision goes to the Jefferson County Circuit Court.

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