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Archive for Monday, January 29, 2001

Douglas County to explore ethics code

January 29, 2001

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Douglas County commissioners are considering adopting a code of ethics.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug said he identified the issue as one the new commissioners may want to take up during their four-year terms. He said he hoped to have a work session within a few months to outline issues the commissioners want to discuss.

For now, Weinaug said, commissioners were dealing with more pressing issues such as home occupations, septic waste and the $4.3 million expansion project of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Building, which starts today.

A code of ethics policy can wait.

"It's not something I see as that important right now," Weinaug said.

County employees must follow an ethics and conduct policy included in the county's personnel manual.

"I don't feel a sense of urgency to do this, but I think it ought to be done," commission Chairman Bob Johnson said. "I don't think people have been doing things contrary to a code since there wasn't a code there."

For the city of Lawrence, a specific incident prompted its ethics policy.

In 1989, former Mayor Bob Schumm identified a potential conflict involving former Planning Commissioner David Evans. Evans' architectural firm, Gould Evans Architects, was hired by Westgate Properties, which was successful in gaining commercial rezoning for 15 acres at the southeast corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Evans excused himself from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission table when the issue came up, but during the hearing he addressed his fellow planners from the podium.

More than a year later, the city commission adopted an ethics policy that covers all city employees, city board members and city commissioners. Among the policy guidelines, city officials must refrain from voting on issues that will result in a direct financial benefit to them or their spouse, and never use confidential information gained in government for the purpose of private profit. It also gives city commissioners the power to remove ethics code violators from their positions.

David Corliss, assistant city manager and director of legal services, said the policy helps people avoid potential conflicts of interest. For example, he said that he belongs to the Douglas County Legal Aid Society, which the city helps finance.

"There's no financial interest I have in that, but most people say it's good to disclose the information," he said. "Others say it's good to refrain from voting because you're involved with that group."

From time to time, Corliss said, city officials run into situations regarding their memberships in community groups.

"You want elected officials involved with the community," he said. "That's also more likely to mean that they're going to run into these situations."

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