Denton residents take issue with full disclosure rules as ethics ordinance nears completion

Denton residents take issue with full disclosure rules as ethics ordinance nears completion

Denton residents take issue with full disclosure rules as ethics ordinance nears completion
April 04
23:41 2018

Denton’s ethics ordinance, which looks to enforce integrity and transparency within city hall, is nearing completion after six years of conversation surrounding the issue, but some area residents are not satisfied with mandates for conflict of interest disclosures.

The ordinance will apply to city officials, former city officials of the past two years, vendors and complainants. It addresses issues such as accepting gifts, improper influence, misuse of information and abuse of position.

Alan Bojorquez, a lawyer hired by the city, drafted three versions of the ordinance, which is nearing completion. Area residents are concerned about full disclosure rules under the document.

Council members discussed the potential reasons to make a conflict of interest disclosure mandatory. The current draft states conflicts must be disclosed if a council member has over $600 invested in a pending matter.

Some residents think all business and financial interests need to be disclosed even if the financial interest is less than $600.

“This kind of disclosure is important in aiding the citizens in understanding, not just if there is a bias, but if there is an appearance of bias,” Denton resident Den Gold said during a public hearing session. “I think that’s a higher standard than just saying above $600 it’s prohibited, but below $600 is ethically OK. I just don’t like how that ethically looks.”

Council member Keely Briggs opened a conversation about full disclosure during the last council meeting on the subject. Council member Dalton Gregory recommended making disclosure optional.

“I think that’s too steep of a rule for an issue that probably is very insignificant in terms of its impact,” Gregory said.

Deb Armintor, UNT English professor and Place 5 Denton City Council candidate, spoke during a public hearing about why council members should disclose any conflicts of interest.

“Being on a board or committee involves a lot of work,”Armintor said. “I think the most important thing in what we should be thinking of is the public, not so much the burden on the people being asked to disclose.”

Paul Meltzer, local businessman and Place 6 candidate, said the issue is a lot simpler than it is made out to be.

“If you have a relationship with a person that is bringing business before you, you gotta say so,” Meltzer said. “It’s as simple as that. It’s not about a dollar limit or finding some wiggly way to avoid it. You just gotta say so.”

The issue of nepotism, employment based on knowing someone in power, will not be in the ordinance because it is already in city policy.

The ethics panel which administers the ordinance, an ad-hoc subcommittee of the Board of Ethics, will be subject to the Open Meetings Act.

The ordinance has been in the works since Nov. 7, 2017, when a charter election was held on the subject. The election resulted in 1,822 votes for formulating an ordinance and 276 votes against it.

Council members participated in ethics law training had seven work sessions and two public hearings on the ordinance. The ethics ordinances for 18 other Texas cities and state law were taken into consideration when writing the ordinance.

“No one can say you have a cookbook ordinance,” Bojorquez told the city council. “This one was crafted specifically for Denton, reflecting your wishes and your preferences.”

Council members will discuss the third draft during their regular meeting on Tuesday. They are expected to adopt the ordinance on April 17.

Featured Image: File

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Devin Rardin

Devin Rardin

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