Interesting Conflicts

February 27, 2008 at 2:10pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

If you were to be presented a ballot today with the following question, how would you vote?

“No holder of public office shall simultaneously have a business contract with the City, neither as an individual nor as whole or partial owner of a business.”

Would you vote for or against that sort of addition to the City Charter?

I think it’s easy to want to vote in favor of anything that helps avoid ethical quagmires such as situations in which a public office holder could make decisions that (directly or indirectly) affect his business operations. It helps avoid not only actual problems, but also the appearance of improprieties. I suspect this sort of addition to the City Charter would be supported by a large majority of the public.

And yet I can’t shake my feelings of uncertainty. It’s odd that I’m not completely gung-ho about any sort of proposal to clean up government. But local government is a funny thing. Local decision-makers are inherently much more closely involved with the parts of the community their decisions affect. That makes it more likely that a public official’s decision will directly benefit him, yes, but it also makes it more likely that such a situation is difficult to avoid. If we cast too wide a net, we prevent qualified individuals from holding public office; if we do nothing, we risk another Ray’s Lawn & Home Care fiasco.

How would you phrase an amendment to the City Charter to help prevent these sorts of ethics troubles? Would you lean strongly toward zero tolerance, or the status quo? Or would you strike a balance between the two, and if so, how?

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The Comments

Fletch February 27, 2008 at 3:23pm

I’d like to strike any and all conflicts of interest if possible. I think Svoboda would have had a cleaner run, and indeed would be mayor, had he cut the cord on his contracts with the city long before he did.

The area of wording that I have a problem with is “partial owner” of a business. That should be clarified. If someone holds less than 10 or 20% of a business, I don’t see it being as large an issue.

Let’s say I own Berkshire Hathaway stock, which is a large holder of Coca Cola stock. Now I am on the city council (wouldn’t that be a riot). There’s a bidding war for city contracts between Coke and Pepsi for all the vending. Is it a conflict of interest because I am a a “partial” owner of Coca Cola? To me, no. The way it’s written, yes. That’s where some tweaking may be needed.

If I own the Coke or Pepsi plant here, no question that it’s a conflict. If I am a shareholder? Gotta work out the gray areas.

That’s my thoughts. Fletch for City Council!

Gene February 27, 2008 at 4:32pm

Fletch’s argument is what I was thinking about as I read your post. An owner or a controlling owner is different from someone who owns a few shares.

If you’re going to run for public office, it’s just plain dumb to be delinquent on your contracts with the city.

Gunscribe February 29, 2008 at 1:30pm

I vote NO

I really don’t have a problem with it for several reasons;

First consider the pay scale for a City Councilman in Lincoln. The last I heard it was around 23 grand.

For that kind of money who can afford to serve without any other kind of employment? Retired folk? Spouses of some other large income?

Is that the all make up we want our council to have, old people and housewives? 

If there is a conflict it is up to us the people that vote to recognize that and toss the offending party out of office at the ballot box.

I don’t recall that this has ever been a problem. I still don’t believe it is. I think it is tripe created by some that have a personal agenda against Svaboda and Camp.

As I understand it Svaboda’s company hadn’t been paid for the work they did the previous year. If I had a contract with the city I sure as heck wouldn’t be too excited about servicing it if I wasn’t getting paid for work I had already done.

Truth be known I am not a big fan of Svaboda anyway so I am not saying this to be sticking up for him in any way, shape or form.

By implementing a change such as this or a term limit statute is in effect denying me my Right to vote for a candidate of my choice.

Changes like this and term limits keep making it easier for us to be more and more lazy and non-nonchalant about our civic duties.

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