THE HUNTER REPORT

thehunterreport.com

 

CONFLICT OF INTEREST, ETHICS & NEPOTISM

 

BY: PAT HUNTER

JAN 21, 2011

 

President Obama just named General Electric (GE) CEO Jeffrey Immelt as head of a key advisory economic advisory council. Already there is criticism about his role and influence. Will Immelt's new advisory position constitute a potential conflict of interest? According to the New York Times, ..."The appointment of Mr. Immelt, who will retain his posts at G.E., is not without complications for Mr. Obama. G.E., one of the nation’s largest companies, routinely has a wide variety of regulatory, trade, contracting and other issues before the federal government, on matters as varied as television mergers, military hardware and environmental cleanup." As Immelt looks for job strategies, its interesting to note that GE outsourced thousands of Americans jobs.

Local officials routinely vote on many issues and matters including setting the property tax rate, filling vacancies, policies and procedures, operating budgets, school budgets, vehicles, wages and salaries, insurance and benefits, etc. but what happens when a person may have a potential conflict of interest regarding a vote on a certain matter or issue; what then? Is that person obligated to disclose or avoid a conflict of interest?

On December 6, 2010, Commission voted to increase the Sheriff's Budget by $250,000 and buy 10 more new cars for the Loudon County Sheriff's Department. But the vote of two commissioners has raised questions and concerns. Commissioners Steve Harrelson and Earlena Maples voted to buy 10 new cars for the Sheriff's Office; should both commissioners have declared a conflict of interest (real or perceived) prior to the vote? Interestingly, this appears to be the second only motion made by new Commissioner Steve Harrelson since elected as 6th District Commissioner. His first motion was for a board appointment and his second motion was for the Sheriff's Dept's cars. Commissioner Harrelson is employed by Lenoir City as the Recreation Director and Commissioner Earlena Maples is employed by Lenoir City's Utility Board. Tony Aikens is Lenoir City's Mayor and Chairman of LCUB. He is  also employed as the Chief Deputy for the Loudon County Sheriff's Office.

At the Nov. 8, 2010 Ethics Open Government meeting, Sheriff Guider asked, if I was to have discussions with a county commissioner, is that  improper? As long as its just one; if its two and you're talking about county business it would be a problem replied the county attorney.  How hard is it to separate the two roles just ask two professionals who seemed to have the same problem. At the Nov 8th Open Government meeting, Tony Aikens also posed a question but when the County Attorney replied and called him "Chief" Aikens replied that he was wearing his Mayor's hat. And at the Nov. 22, 2010 Lenoir City Council meeting after a brief Executive Session about a civil service matter, Lenoir City Attorney Scott, not once but twice referred to Tony Aikens as "Chief" but Aikens interjected and said "Mayor." Excuse me I apologize, I am not the only one, it's contagious, commented City Attorney Scott. Commission soundly approved an increase to the Sheriff's Budget for the purchase of the cars by a 9 yes and 1 no margin.

 

 

TENNESSEE STATE LAW -

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

State law states "Any member of a local governing body of a county or a municipality who is also an employee of such county or municipality may vote on matters in which such member has a conflict of interest if the member informs the governing body immediately prior to the vote as follows. Because I am an employee of (name of governmental unit), I have a conflict of interest in the proposal about to be voted. However, I declare that my argument and my vote answer only to my conscience and to my obligation to my constituents and the citizens this body represents..." See below T.C.A. 5-5-102.

Although State law states "...The vote of any person having a conflict of interest who does not inform the governing body of such conflict as provided in subdivision (c)(4)(A) shall be void if challenged in a timely manner. As used in this section, “timely manner” means during the same meeting at which the vote was cast and prior to the transaction of any further business by the body" seldom do local government officials challenge a vote or declare their conflict of interest before a vote.

Do you think stronger laws are needed when conflict of interest issues arise? 

 

Conflict of Interest

Examples, Issues & Concerns:

 

 

 

 

 

Is Blood thinker than water?

Nepotism in Government

 "OF THE FAMILY, BY THE FAMILY, FOR THE FAMILY"

Is blood thicker than water? How do politicians gain the public's trust?

People are skeptical about the influence that one person may have over another especially if we are talking about officials who make decisions that affect the public. Can a politician remain unbiased and not influenced by others in their roles?  

Nepotism in government is one topic that is rarely discussed in public. Could it be because some officials may feel uncomfortable about discussing family, business, or other ties of their own? Do these family or work relationships and/or connections influence a person's decision making; I don't know but you do have to wonder sometimes?

Loudon County officials did not adopt a Nepotism Policy even though the POLICY AND PROCEDURE HANDBOOK FOR LOUDON COUNTY GOVERNMENT was revised and adopted by Loudon County Government on December 2007.

For years, certain elected officials hired and supervised relatives at the workplace, which is unheard of in the private sector. Case in point, the former County Clerk employed his wife and other relative while in office. 

Several years ago, a developer asked to see a list of all blood relatives of the LCUB Board of directors. The list was interesting and it showed the names of employees who were related to the board of directors of this public utility. 

 

People in Government

 

Here's a partial list of people (present and past) who serve and/or served on local government (county, city, school board, or utility) some with family, work and/or other governmental ties:

 

(*NOTE: OTHER NAMES HAVE BEEN ADDED TO THE ORIGINAL LIST. )

 

Tennessee Code Annotated  - Legislative  - Commission

5-5-102. Membership. —

 

 

   

(a)  (1)  The county legislative body shall be composed of not less than nine (9) nor more than twenty-five (25) members.

 

 

 

   

(2)  There shall be at least nine (9) districts in the county legislative body in any county designated as a Class 2 county before January 1, 1999, as established by § 8-24-101.

   

 

   
 

(b)  Members shall reside within and be qualified voters of the districts that they represent.

 

 

   
 

(c)  (1)  Notwithstanding any provision of the law to the contrary, any county employee, otherwise qualified to serve as a member of the county legislative body, shall not be disqualified from such legislative office by reason of being a county employee.

 

 

   
 

     (2)  No person elected or appointed to fill the office of county mayor, sheriff, trustee, register, county clerk, assessor of property, or any other county-wide office filled by vote of the people or the county legislative body, shall also be nominated for or elected to membership in the county legislative body. After June 18, 2005, a director of schools shall not be qualified to serve as a member of the county legislative body.

 

 

   
 

     (3)  [Deleted by 2008 amendment.]

 

 

   
 

     (4)  (A)  Any member of a local governing body of a county or a municipality who is also an employee of such county or municipality may vote on matters in which such member has a conflict of interest if the member informs the governing body immediately prior to the vote as follows:

 

 

   
 

Because I am an employee of (name of governmental unit), I have a conflict of interest in the proposal about to be voted. However, I declare that my argument and my vote answer only to my conscience and to my obligation to my constituents and the citizens this body represents.

 

 

   
 

          (B)  In the event a member of a local governing body of a county or a municipality has a conflict of interest in a matter to be voted upon by the body, such member may abstain for cause by announcing such to the presiding officer. Any member of a local governing body of a county or municipality who abstains from voting for cause on any issue coming to a vote before the body shall not be counted for the purpose of determining a majority vote.

 

 

   
 

          (C)  The vote of any person having a conflict of interest who does not inform the governing body of such conflict as provided in subdivision (c)(4)(A) shall be void if challenged in a timely manner. As used in this section, “timely manner” means during the same meeting at which the vote was cast and prior to the transaction of any further business by the body.

 

 

   
 

      (D)  Nothing in this subdivision (c)(4) shall be construed as altering, amending or otherwise affecting the provisions of § 12-4-101(a). In the event of any conflict between this subdivision (c)(4) and § 12-4-101(a), the provisions of § 12-4-101(a) shall prevail.

 

 

   
 

(d)  No more than three (3) members shall be elected from any one (1) district.

 

 

   
 

(e)  (1)  Members shall serve terms of four (4) years or until their successors are elected and qualified.

 

 

   
 

     (2)  Members of the county legislative body shall be elected in the regular August election in 1978 and every four (4) years thereafter.

 

 

   
 

(f)  The members of the county legislative body shall be known individually as county commissioners and collectively as the board of county commissioners.

 

 

   
 

(g)  The term of office for members of the county legislative body shall begin on September 1 next succeeding their election.

 

 

   
 

(h)  (1)  The county legislative body shall have discretionary authority to determine whether each office in multi-member districts will be separately designated on the ballot, with candidates required to run and to be elected on the basis of such separately designated offices within the district.

 

 

   
 

     (2)  No candidate shall qualify for more than one (1) such separately designated office within a multi-member district.

 

 

   
 

     (3)  In any county designated as a Class 2 county before January 1, 1999, as established by § 8-24-101, each office in multi-member districts shall be separately designated on the ballot, and candidates shall run and be elected on the basis of such separately designated offices within the district.

 

 

   
 

(i)  If a vacancy shall occur in the office of a member of the county legislative body, the vacancy shall be filled as provided for in § 5-1-104(b).

 

 

[Acts 1978, ch. 934, §§ 8, 10; 1979, ch. 175, § 1; T.C.A., § 5-502; Acts 1980, ch. 658, § 1; 1980, ch. 785, § 1; 1981, ch. 143, § 1; 1981, ch. 219, § 1; 1981, ch. 293, § 1; 1981, ch. 318, § 2; 1986, ch. 765, §§ 1-3; 2001, ch. 86, §§ 1, 2; 2003, ch. 90, § 2; 2005, ch. 471, § 1; 2008, ch. 871, § 2.]

 

 

LENOIR CITY CHARTER

ARTICLE V

THE OFFICE OF MAYOR

 

Section

1. Duties and powers of the mayor.

 

Section 1. Duties and powers of the mayor. The duties and powers of the mayor shall be as follows:

 

He shall, from time to time, give the City Council information relative to the condition of the corporation, and shall, by written message, recommend such measures as he may deem for the best interest of the city;

 

The Mayor shall have power to appoint one or more persons to examine into the affairs of any department of the city government whenever he shall deem it necessary;

 

The Mayor shall approve, sign, and return all ordinances passed by the City Council before the next regular meeting thereof; unless he vetoes same, which he has the power to do; and if he vetoes any ordinance, he shall return same to the City Council at its next regular meeting, with his reason, or reasons, therefor, in writing, and such ordinance shall not become valid unless passed over his veto by the affirmative vote of four of the Aldermen; but if he fails to

return an ordinance, with his approval or disapproval, to the next regular meeting of the City Council after its passage, it shall be valid without his signature.

 

PAGE C-15

 

He may call special sessions of the City Council when he deems expedient; he shall preside at all meetings of the City Council, and in case of a tie vote between the Aldermen, he shall vote, but not otherwise.

 

The Mayor shall have the authority to terminate employment under policies approved by the Council.

 

The Mayor shall sign all contracts and agreements entered into by the city and shall receive legal claims against the city.

 

He shall be ex officio, a member of all the committees and boards herein provided for, including the school board.

 

The Mayor shall appoint an advisory charter review commission at least every four years to review the city charter and make recommendations to the city council for proposed amendments.

 

LENOIR CITY

ARTICLE XV

UTILITIES

Section

1. Utilities board.

2. Powers and duties.

Section 1. Utilities board. There is hereby created a body to be known as "The Lenoir City Utilities Board" which shall be composed of the six (6) members of the City Council of the City of Lenoir City, Tennessee, together with the Mayor, who shall be ex officio chairman of said board and who shall have the power to vote only in case of a tie vote of the members. Five members of the board shall constitute a quorum. Chapter 205 of the State Private Acts is

hereby retained and reaffirmed as a part of this charter section by reference, as if copied herein.

Section 2. Powers and duties. The utilities board shall have the following powers and duties:

1. To fix the dates for their regular meetings at the offices of the board and to keep a record of all their actions and proceedings.

2. To have the management, control, supervision, and operation of all utilities services provided by the City of Lenoir City.

3. To hire all employees, which in their judgment, are necessary for the efficient management and operation of the utility systems, and to fix the compensation and salaries of such employees.

PAGE C-26

4. To insure that all customers of the utilities systems are billed promptly and accurately for services furnished, and to take all proper steps for the collection of accounts.

5. To prescribe uniform rules and regulations applicable to all customers alike for the operation of the utility systems.

6. They shall have the right to discharge any employee for failure to perform his or her duties efficiently, or to terminate employment of any employee whose services the board deems no longer to be necessary.

7. To elect a manager or superintendent to serve at the pleasure of the board.

8. The board shall have power to issue warrants upon the City Treasury for all lawful and proper expenditures of the board and/or to maintain all necessary banking accounts for the efficient

operation of the utilities systems. All warrants or checks shall be signed by the manager or superintendent and countersigned by the Mayor.

9. The board shall keep the City Council informed at all times of the financial condition of the utilities systems.

10. The board shall have the right and power to make any and all necessary repairs and extensions of the systems when the board deems appropriate and feasible, either inside or outside the municipal boundaries.

11. The board shall have power to make any and all necessary purchases of equipment and supplies for the efficient operation of the utilities systems.

12. All funds collected by the board from whatever source shall be handled and accounted for in accordance with law and detailed accountings shall be kept in accordance with accepted accounting practices.

13. The compensation for each of the members of the board and the chairman, together with the necessary expenses for each shall be set by the board, provided that City Council may by resolution or ordinances fix the maximum compensation which may be received by them.

PAGE C-27

14. The board shall not lease, sell or encumber any property belonging to the city except in the ordinary course of its business operations except upon approval of the City Council.

15. The board shall have all other powers incidental to the operation of a utilities system, not in conflict with applicable law or directives of the City Council.

16. The City of Lenoir City shall have full power and authority to construct, maintain and operate a municipal utility system both inside or outside the corporation, including electric, water, sewer, gas, telecommunications and other utilities.

 

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01-21-2011