• October 17, 2019

City Council discusses ethics ordinance - Odessa American: News

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City Council discusses ethics ordinance

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Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2019 6:21 pm

The Odessa City Council met Tuesday afternoon to look at an example of an ethics ordinance and discuss what changes they would like to see in their own potential ethics ordinance.

This ordinance was proposed to address issues such as conflict of interest, which the city has dealt with in the past. District 1 Council Member Malcolm Hamilton and Former District 5 Council Member Filiberto Gonzales had questions of conflict of interest come up.

But Hamilton wasn’t at the meeting. At-Large Council Member Peggy Dean said Hamilton texted her during the meeting that he was ill, and had asked to table the meeting for later because he had several notes and concerns made about the ordinance he wanted to discuss. Dean and Mayor David Turner said they would be discussing the ordinance again. District 2 Council Member Dewey Bryant was also absent from the meeting, and City Secretary Norma Grimaldo said he was out of town.

The ethics ordinance they looked at was from the city of Belmont, Calif. It covered general ethics and conduct guidelines on how officials should act around each other, the public and city employees. Turner said during the meeting it was important to have something like this because two council members might not have the same ethics, so this would act as a guideline for what is acceptable behavior.

One concern was raised by Dean about the first item in the ordinance about acting in the public interest, where it stated city officials will work for the common good of the people and not for any personal or private interest. Dean said before she was elected she and her son, an architect, were working on some housing for downtown, and said she felt like some would think she got special privileges because she’s a council member if she bought land downtown.

“That wording is just a little odd, because any public benefit is always going to have  some specific, personal benefit to somebody,” Interim City Attorney Gary Landers told her.

Landers told her Texas had less strict conflict of interest laws than it used to, and that the appearance of a conflict didn’t necessarily mean there was one, and said law would not interpret a council member investing in downtown, say by buying a business, as a conflict of interest.

“I want to have a clear understanding,” Dean said. ”It may be fine in court, but in the court of public opinion, I want people to say ‘that’s my council member, and they’re really looking out for us.’”

Dean added she told her son he couldn’t fill out a request for proposal for the city about building downtown because of her role on the council.

Landers said also that in a scenario like downtown, where the city wants to see more investment and revitalization, it would be fine for a council member to, say, invest in starting a business in the downtown area, so long as they didn’t ask for any incentives from the city our purchase it through the city.

Ultimately, Turner suggested they remove the part about council members not working for any private or personal interest.

Another item the council had a problem with involved independence of boards and commissions. The ordinance said members of council shall refrain from using their position to unduly influence deliberations or outcomes of board and commission proceedings. Landers disagreed with the rule, and said if appointees are making decisions their council member disagreed with, they could be unappointed.

Several other items included in the ordinance involved respectful behavior at meetings and toward others, merit-based decision making, not taking advantage of services or opportunities for personal gain, and advocating on behalf of the City Council without approval from the City Council.

“We recognize there’s some gray areas,” Landers said. “We’re standing up and saying if there are gray areas, we’re gonna handle them.”

Who exactly would be handling them is up to the council however, be it an ethics committee overseeing the ordinance, or the Council themselves. Landers said that decision depended on the decision of the City Council, and that the direction so far provided by City Council is that they would be the only authority interpreting the ethics ordinance. When asked if some might find the Council self-policing suspect, Landers said this falls in line with how city government has worked for 200 years.

“If you’re elected, you make the rules, and if we don’t agree with the rules, then we vote for somebody else at the next election,” Landers said. 

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