Radcliff to review ethics ordinance

-A A +A

20-page policy developed by Kentucky League of Cities

By Marty Finley

Radcliff again is discussing the option of creating its own ethics board.\

Councilman Stan Holmes presented a draft ethics ordinance to Radcliff City Council Monday afternoon closely shadowing Hardin County’s ethics ordinance, to which the city adheres. The key difference is the establishment of a five-member ethics board to evaluate ethical dilemmas and complaints that surface.

City officials received the ordinance Monday and said they would review it and revisit it at the council’s March 11 work session.

The ordinance presented by Holmes is a model developed by the Kentucky League of Cities. Holmes described it as an improvement on the county ordinance and a way to build confidence and public trust of residents by actively working to improve the systems the city has in place to deal with problems.

The 20-page ordinance defines standards of conduct for city employees and elected officials regarding gifts, nepotism and financial conflicts of interest with city business and contracts. A section of the ordinance also provides guidelines on financial disclosures made annually by elected officials, political candidates, members of planning and zoning commissions and boards of adjustment, Board of Ethics members and non-elected officers or employees authorized to make purchases of materials or services or award contracts, leases or agreements.

Board of Ethics members would be appointed by the mayor, subject to the approval of the council, and would serve without compensation unless otherwise stipulated by the council. Board members cannot hold elected office or be an employee of the city or city agency, according to the ordinance.

If created, the Board of Ethics would have the ability to receive and investigate complaints, hold hearings and make findings of facts related to alleged violations. The Board of Ethics would issue advisory opinions and those found in violation could be subject to a fine, according to the ordinance.

Councilmen Don Shaw and Don Yates asked Holmes on several occasions what particular action has occurred within the city for Holmes to question the effectiveness of the county ordinance and to cite public trust as a factor. Holmes said he did not propose the ordinance because of particular circumstances or individuals but rather as an avenue to improve the city.

“Well, I don’t think it’s broke,” Shaw said in response.

Yates said he supports the county ordinance because it offers an impartial group of individuals who can review a potential ethics complaint without hint of political bias. To make his point, Yates compared it to a third-party investigation by Kentucky State Police when a Radcliff police officer is involved in a shooting.

Councilman Jacob Pearman said the analogy was not an apt comparison because a shooting is not categorized the same way as an ethical complaint, such as an accusation of bribery or nepotism.

City Attorney Michael Pike said city disciplinary action toward a police officer, for example, should not be confused for an ethics violation and encouraged the council to separate the two.

Pike said the ordinance falls closely in line with the county ordinance with the primary difference being the creation of a city ethics board. Pike said he believes the city could withdraw from the county’s Board of Ethics if it adopted the ordinance, but he was not certain without more thorough research. Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham echoed Pike and said she would have to research the topic further before she could offer a definitive answer.

Yates said he was in favor of striking down Holmes’ proposal and staying with the county ordinance, but Pearman said he wanted more time to evaluate and read the ordinance before he agreed to table it or remove it from consideration. After more discussion, Yates conceded and said he would review the ordinance further.

Councilwoman Barbara Baker, meanwhile, said she wanted Holmes to define the specific changes needed in the current ordinance to justify a new ordinance.

Councilman Edward Palmer first broached the idea of a city-based Board of Ethics after Yates and Baker’s husband, Bobby, applied for package liquor licenses. Neither license application was approved by the state.

Palmer argued the council members initiated conflicts of interest by applying for liquor licenses after participating in actions legislating alcohol, and he referenced that Monday while supporting Holmes.

Palmer said the “easy answer” is to maintain the status quo, even when improvements may be warranted.

“I don’t think Stan is saying anything is broke,” he said. But, he said, the ordinance is worth a review.

Explaining his position, Palmer said he would prefer an established board of peers within the community to address ethical complaints rather than farming the complaints to an outside body who could shape the political atmosphere in Radcliff. When Yates asked Palmer whether he trusted the county’s board, Palmer said he believes Radcliff has residents who are capable of adequately addressing internal ethic complaints.

“I trust the people who elected me,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.