The Lawrence City Commission is putting some punch in its proposed code of ethics.
The code, which would apply to city employees, commissioners and members of city boards, has been written, revised and rewritten several times since it was first proposed more than a year ago. But during Tuesday's meeting, the commission agreed for the first time that the code should include provisions for penalizing violators.
Commissioner Bob Schumm proposed that if anyone is deemed to have violated the code, any resulting action would be voided and returned for full reconsideration through the appropriate channels.
For example, if a commissioner maintains a "substantial interest" in a business that wins a city contract, and the commissioner doesn't disclose his interest, the contract would be voided once the issue came to light.
"THAT TAKES away the incentive for anyone, no matter how slight, to enter into any inappropriate behavior. I think that's probably the greatest deterrent and the easiest one to put into effect," Schumm said.
Determining whether a violation occurred would be left to the city commission.
Mayor Shirley Martin-Smith and Commissioners David Penny and Bob Walters in the past had balked at writing any penalties into the code, but agreed that Schumm's proposal would be appropriate.
"When we talked about this before, I had some problems," Walters said. "But . . . surely if we have some deviation from our code, then there has to be something on the other side of the coin. I like your idea; I think it has some merit."
THE PROPOSAL, Walters noted, also would serve as a defacto censure of violators of the code.
City Manager Mike Wildgen pointed out that the city does have autonomous boards, such as the hospital board and library board, that did not necessarily have to abide by the code. But commissioners agreed that the code could separate those autonomous boards from panels that answer directly to the commission.
The code, which now goes back to Wildgen for another revision, provides "ethical standards of conduct" for employees, commissioners and board members when acting in the capacity of a public servant.
In addition to adding the proposed section on penalties, commissioners agreed to several revisions for simplifying language. They also agreed that the code should include a requirement that the document automatically be given to anyone who is appointed or elected to a city board as soon as they take their seat.
THE ROAD toward an ethics code, commissioners agreed, has been a long one.
"If we weren't making progress, I'd say this is another delaying tactic," Penny remarked. "But we're making progress."
Martin-Smith said she expected Wildgen's revisions to be completed and back before the commission in December.