Council’s proposed ethics amendment generates debate
By Stephanie Johns
Madison held its first reading of a charter amendment to its ethics ordinance and heard concerns from a couple of people – one in person and one by letter.
The purpose of this amendment, as detailed by City Attorney Joe Reitman, is not to expand coverage.
“Primarily this is a cleanup,” he said. “The purpose is to clarify.”
Greenspace Commission Chairman David Land said that while he is “a firm advocate” of ethics, he sees no problem with waiting a bit longer so that the council may address his concerns. Concerns which Land said he raised about a year ago.
While he is not opposed to “strong ethics language” he is opposed to “inconsistent, confusing, and conflicting ethics language,” he shared.
During Monday night’s meeting Land voiced five concerns.
He asked that the council ensure language is “appropriate, clear, and consistent” and that they correct or eliminate consequences.
He requested safe harbor and that the city provide ethics training.
He also suggested the council establish a committee to review the language and make recommendations.
Councilman Michael Naples said he was not in favor of a committee.
“I would prefer to play this out in city council meetings,” he said.
As to perfection, he said that would not happen.
“If you’re looking for certainty you’re not going to find it,” he said. “We’ll make this as good a charter and an ordinance as possible.”
Corridor Design Commission Chairman Sonny Pennington shared his concerns about the ethics ordinance via a letter dated Feb. 7, 2013. Along with that letter he resubmitted a letter dated Jan. 13, 2012.
In that 2012 letter he wrote, “Under the new proposed ordinance, the level of scrutiny, disclosure requirements, and sanctions seem to be much more elevated.”
He went on, “The language in the proposed ordinance is more demanding, the potential for frivolous ethics claims is certainly a reality, and the potential consequences of non-willful non-compliance could be severe.”
At the end of the letter he wrote, “Hopefully the end product will allow us all to continue to serve to make our City a better place to live and work without fear of unwarranted, unintended, expensive, and embarrassing ethics issues.”
Mayor Bruce Gilbert said they will go down the list of concerns during their next work session Friday morning.
Reitman noted that so long as changes to the ordinance were syntax and punctuation changes and not substantive ones they would not need to have to redo the first reading but could move on to the second reading.
Printed in the February 14, 2013 edition