Dover poised to pass new ethics initiative

 

DOVER — In an effort to be transparent to their constituents and to each other, members of Dover City Council’s Committee of the Whole recommended to adopt an ordinance designed to strengthen the city’s current Code of Conduct and Ethics at its meeting on Tuesday night.

Proposed ordinance No. 2017-14 Amending Chapter 30 – Code of Conduct and Ethics Commission (City of Dover Ethics Initiative) was sponsored by Councilmen Matt Lindell and Tanner Polce and Council President Tim Slavin.

The Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee voted unanimously in favor of recommending the ethics ordinance to city council, which will make a final vote on the measure at its next meeting on Nov. 13.

Basically, members of Dover City Council will now be following the ethics guidelines and financial disclosures that all members of both the General Assembly and the Executive Branch have to file on an annual basis.

“I’m going to go with the fact that this is a system that works,” President Slavin said. “It works for judges, it works for legislators, it works for every appointed official in the state of Delaware.”

The language in the ethics ordinance was tightened to ensure that council members are operating in a transparent fashion, especially when it relates to their financial holdings.

Councilman Polce deflected much of the credit to the reworked ethics initiative to City Clerk Director Traci McDowell for her input.

“Mrs. McDowell did research on several different municipalities and cities to bring in some language that just strengthens our current practice,” he said.

Under the new ethics guidelines, the city’s elected and appointed officials will receive and read the standard to ethical conduct by the Ethics Commission either electronically or in hard copy.

They will then sign that document and acknowledge that they have read its contents.

Then they will fill out a financial disclosure report that is modeled after the Public Integrity Commissions’ document. The report is for councilmen to disclose where their financial interests are vested.

Councilmen only have to disclose their interest in a business or entity if it’s above $5,000. They only have to list the names of the companies they are involved with and not the amount their business interest with them is worth.

“This is to ensure that we are operating in the most open and transparent fashion possible,” said Councilman Polce.

Council members will also have to receive annual ethics training.

“I think, in short, that the spirit of the ordinance and the revisions of the ordinance gets to an issue that we’ve been facing and it’s to operate in an open and transparent fashion and to really ultimately hold ourselves accountable where potential conflict of interest rooted in financial holdings comes to play,” Councilman Polce said. “The majority of the language is revisions of the previous ordinance, making it a standard at best practice.”

Councilman David Anderson said he liked the framework of the new ethics ordinance, but didn’t feel like he should have to disclose personal information such as his 401K plan and such.

“I think there’s definitely been a lot of work and improvement in this particular process. I think we’re getting there,” he said. “I do have a problem with unnecessarily cutting and pasting this type of (disclosure) form that has things that really shouldn’t be at either level.

“We should just focus on things that could create a possible conflict of interest, such as business enterprises and other instruments of ownership.”

Councilman Lindell said disclosure in business interests is in the best interest of elected officials.

“I don’t see the big deal,” he said. “When I ran in the election I expected that we should be held to a higher standard, which means I should be expected to share a little more information than the average Joe or Jane Citizen.

“The system works throughout the state and it’s a vetted process. I don’t see the issue.”

Councilman Fred Neil also threw his support behind the ordinance.

“I’m going to be supporting this because I think the transparency issue is the issue that is really at stake,” said Councilman Neil.

Mayor Robin R. Christiansen said the citizens of Dover deserve this kind of transparency from its city leaders.

“I think the public in these days and times require us to be above reproach with the citizens that we serve,” the mayor said, “and I think that all of us in this room serve with integrity and honor to the best of our ability.

“I think that once we set an example to the public that we are doing so, I think that their trust and belief in the actions of council and city staff certainly can be confirmed as to what is the best interest of our citizens.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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