The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly agreed Tuesday to add provisions to the borough’s ethics code, but was divided on one portion of the proposed change.
The Assembly in a split vote removed a section that would have required elected officials to declare instances where their loyalty may be divided. Assembly Member Glen Thompson, who made the motion to strike that portion of the ordinance, argued that instances of divided loyalty are kind of expected in a small town.
“I think that the idea that someone has to disclose a feeling of duty or loyalty to a person or entity other than the borough, where their interest may conflict with those of the borough, with no financial interest involved, is ridiculous,” he said. “We all have those, and the people who elected us know we have those.”
Assembly Member Stephen Bradford agreed, and said the fact that the ordinance calls for member to disclose a feeling is too subjective.
“How I may feel about whether or not I have divided loyalty may be dramatically different than how Mr. Wong may feel,” he said. “I don’t think “feel” is a good barometer for a regulation.”
Bradford was referring to Assembly Member Felix Wong.
On the other side of the question was Assembly Member John Harrington, who said such a regulation will help the Assembly be more transparent. He said it also provides a way for Assembly members to abstain from voting when there are considerations other than finances at stake.
“There are times when I sense or feel I should not be participating in a vote on this body,” he said. “I’ve brought that up on two or three occasions over the last several years and was denied the opportunity to withhold my vote. This gives the vehicle for me to say, in my own best guestimate in my mind, I should not be voting on this.”
Borough Mayor David Landis, who previously served on the borough’s ethics board, said the main concern is that potential divided loyalty should be disclosed by Assembly members. He encouraged members to disclose those feelings, even without the rule in place.
But, Landis said, Assembly members also have a duty to vote.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he said. “We’re not here to shirk our duty or to make needless disclosures that result in declarations of conflict that maybe go all sorts of different ways, where we’re talking about who we live next to or what opinions we have on various agencies that appear before us, or what have you.”
The Assembly voted 4-3 to remove the “divided loyalty” clause from the ordinance. Harrington and Assembly Members Mike Painter and Rodney Dial voted against striking that section.
The main motion then passed 6-1, with Thompson voting no.
Traditionally, elected officials were required to declare a conflict only when a matter had a potential financial impact on them or an immediate family member.
Officials now will have to also declare a conflict on any issue that financially affects an organization if the elected official serves that organization as a board member, for example.
The changes also add grandchildren to the list of family members that must be declared in matters of personal financial interest.