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County discusses need for Code of Ethics

By Staff | May 9, 2014

County Commissioner Lyn Widmyer attempted to convince her fellow commissioners that the county needs a Code of Ethics for all appointed board and committee members.

“I am not sure people are aware of the need to divulge personal interests and make public disclosure,” Widmyer said Thursday when presenting a proposed ethics document. The document, she explained, is based on the American Planning Association’s Code of Ethical Principles.

While several commissioners felt the document was a bit too strict and difficult to enforce, most were not opposed to a Code of Ethics in general.

“Let’s send it to legal for some word-smithing,” said Dale Manuel. “I am for a solid code of ethics.”

Commissioners Jane Tabb and Patsy Noland also concurred that signing off on an ethics document is a good thing. The only commissioner who was opposed to the entire discussion was President Walt Pellish.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Pellish said during the discussion on the intent of the document. “I see this in the guilty until proven innocent category,” he continued.

Widmyer stated that she believes that is it is “onerous” or overreaching to require those who serve on county boards to sign an ethics agreement, “then we have an ethical dilemma in this county.”

Tabb and Noland both expressed their belief that the county needs to give some training to individuals who are taking seats on county-appointed boards and commissions, many of whom make decisions on everything from land purchase to planning and zoning regulations.

“We need to provide ethics workshops and training,” Tabb said. Currently the county attempts to plan a quarterly ethics training; however, Debbie Keyser, county administrator, says attendance at these is minimal as there is not a requirement to attend.

Widmyer’s concern, she said, is that individuals often don’t know that they should disclose information where they may have a personal interest in a vote.

Despite Pellish’s assertion that no one on the county’s boards have such interests or acts unethically, Manuel said that he is a proponent of a clear, solid code of ethics.

“If someone is reluctant to sign a document like this, it scares the dickens out of me,” Manuel stated.

The group voted unanimously to send Widmyer’s proposed document to legal staff for review and some rewrite. Pellish voted with the group although he contended it was unnecessary to have such a document.

“I won’t oppose it since the group is for it, but I see it as sending something to legal that will just take up their time,” he said.

When asked about the next ethics training session, Keyser told commissioners there was a hold on scheduling it until the new make up of the Emergency Services Agency board is finalized; a board, which is being reorganized by the commission, at Pellish’s lead, because it had too many members with potential personal interests.