What are the major revisions to the Ethics Act?
3 members will be appointed by the House legislative delegation
3 members will be appointed by the Senate legislative delegation
1 member will be appointed by the Tax Commissioner
2 Alternate Members will be appointed by the Clerk of Superior Court
You may be wondering why judges were not included in the appointment process. It turns out that a 1995 opinion issued by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) stated that judges should not make appointments to or serve on Board of Ethics due to possible future conflicts if any of these matters were to result in litigation. Ed Williams of Concerned Citizens for Effective Government uncovered this opinion (Opinion 222) and brought it to our attention.
To respond to the unsubstantiated “judge-jury-executioner” criticism of how the Ethics Officer handled and investigated complaints, a new position was added to the staff of the ethics office. An Ethics Administrator will receive and review complaints, notify the subjects of complaints that a complaint has been filed, and report the complaints to the Board for decision-making about further investigation by the Ethics Officer. The Ethics Administrator will be selected by the Board of Ethics and serve at the pleasure of the Board. The Ethics Officer, at the direction of the Board, will continue to do preliminary investigations to determine jurisdiction and probable cause, in addition to pursuing previously mandated duties, including educating and training county employees and officials, advising officials and employees regarding disclosure statements, urging compliance with the code of ethics, and monitoring and acting upon information obtained from the “ethics hotline.”
Addition to Proscribed Conduct re Receipt of Gifts
The legislators added a new subsection that states no employee of the Purchasing and Contracting Department shall accept any gift of value from anyone who has had or may be anticipated to have any business with or before the department. This was already in effect, but it will now be added to the code.
An addition was made to the section dealing with Disclosure of Interests in which officials or employees with a potential conflict of interest in a matter shall recuse themselves from participating or taking any official acts or actions in any manner of the county affected by that individual’s conflict of interest. This, too, has been policy, but will now be in the code.