A landlord who has been fined for substandard conditions at his own rental property doesn't seem like the ideal person to be handling landlord-tenant mediation for the city's Human Relations Department.
The situation becomes even more complicated when the problems go beyond the physical condition of the rental property and into an area that may be covered by the city's disorderly house ordinance.
Unfortunately, that is the situation now facing Lawrence city officials. Paul Winn, who mediates landlord-tenant disputes for the city, is being prosecuted for the second time in a year for renting property that doesn't measure up to the city's housing code. He was fined in a similar case last year.
The problems in the houses include such things as water leaking through ceilings and rotted doors and flooring. But on top of that, neighbors say, the latest case involves a house where convicted offenders are living and criminal activity may be occurring.
This is a difficult situation that will require some careful handling by city officials, but it shouldn't be allowed to continue. Although City Manager David Corliss is an attorney himself and knows better than to discuss a personnel matter in public, his statements to the Journal-World indicate he is concerned about the situation.
"I believe the city commissioners and public have an expectation that everyone who has a city position be above reproach and have the highest levels of ethics in their work," Corliss said, adding that Winn would receive no special treatment and that his case would be prosecuted like any other filed in the city.
There seems little question that this situation casts doubt on Winn's ethical standards. The code violations would reflect poorly on any city employee, but they are particularly troubling for someone in Winn's position. His own conduct as a landlord could easily raise suspicions about his ability to be fair and impartial in mediating landlord-tenant disputes, even if those disputes are based on discrimination issues rather than code compliance.
The integrity of the department is at stake, which is no small matter for the city commissioners and city manager. Winn certainly deserves his day in court, but given his previous violations and the pending cases, the city must carefully assess the impact his presence on the city payroll has on public confidence in local government.