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After a debate that occasionally turned hostile, Radcliff City Council on Monday afternoon resolved to forgo creating its own ethics commission.
The council resumed a debate left open-ended last month after Councilman Stan Holmes asked its members to consider approving a new ethics ordinance. Holmes said such action would show residents how committed the city is to transparency and personal accountability.
He returned to the theme Monday, arguing the city should be willing to hold itself to a “higher level” and govern itself should ethics charges arise.
The ordinance proposed by Holmes closely resembles the countywide ethics ordinance but would create a standalone commission to review city ethics violations and would have required financial disclosures from non-elected officials, such as department heads and appointed members of city boards.
Holmes argued the commission could be helpful in solving internal conflicts. When asked for an example, he said the commission would have the authority to review certain situations, such as a losing bidder who accuses a department head of financial gain when choosing another contractor.
Councilman Edward Palmer, who has lobbied for a city ethics commission in the past, joined Holmes, saying he wants to be held accountable by his own residents rather than an unfamiliar county board with little city representation.
“The people who elect us are the people judging us,” he said.
Councilman Don Yates said he prefers the makeup of the county commission because it strips bias from the equation and allows the board to review each case objectively.
Councilman Jacob Pearman echoed Yates, saying an ethics board should be in a position to judge a case based on facts, which is easier when they do not know the individuals involved.
“I’m satisfied with that arm’s length distance,” he said.
Palmer countered, saying a city ethics board would not arbitrarily be biased if appointed. Likewise, there are no guarantees personal bias could not seep into the countywide ethics board’s decisions, he said.
Mayor J.J. Duvall said there is a possibility the city still could be subject to the county’s ethics board even if it adopts its own independent commission. The city still is seeking clarification on the matter, he said.
Tempers later flared when Palmer turned to personal complaints about city operations. Palmer said he often is confronted by constituents who are upset about the city’s method of operations with no recourse beyond a referral to City Hall. Palmer said a process should be implemented to assist those residents with their complaints. Otherwise, he said he risks losing credibility as a lawmaker.
Duvall said complaints about day-to-day operations or concerns surrounding employee behavior never should be handled by council members but directed to his office because he has the hiring and firing authority and was elected to manage the administration.
The mayor said most complaints the city receives are related to the Radcliff Police Department because officers are highly visible in the public, but he addresses all legitimate complaints and takes action when necessary.
Duvall asked the council to confide in him when complaints are broached and he will work with them to resolve the issues.
“If I don’t know about them, I can’t correct them,” he said.
Councilwoman Barbara Baker said she wondered if Holmes and Palmer were trying to leverage the ethics board as a way to undermine the mayor.
“It sounds to me like you’re trying to take the mayor’s job away from him,” she said to Holmes. “If you want to be mayor, you need to run for it.”
Both men said they had no desire to usurp the mayor’s authority but wanted to see a standardized process set up to review specific complaints. Duvall said the council may want to explore creation of a review panel rather than an ethics commission because those types of complaints would fall outside of an ethics board’s purview.
Pearman agreed and said the council should work together, draft ideas on what they want and take the ethics board off the table, which Holmes was open to.
Talk was nearly grounded when Yates made a motion to table the discussion until next month so Councilman Don Shaw could participate. Shaw was absent from Monday’s meeting as he recovered from chemotherapy treatments.
Palmer objected and said Shaw would not want the council to stall progress.
“I don’t think we should set a precedent where we stop city business,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.