PROVO City Council members put an end to consideration of a proposed ordinance intended to paint a broad line defining ethical behavior for any council members who have a conflict of interest in matters under consideration by the council.
After being continued from several previous meetings, the City Council voted 4-3 in their Tuesday study session to reject any further consideration of the measure. City Councilwoman Cindy Clark said she doesn't like the new ordinance, and she thinks the current ordinance regarding conflicts of interests is sufficient as it stands.
"It just doesn't sit well with me," she said. In her experience, council members have acted appropriately when conflicts of interest arise.
As written in draft form, the ordinance would have strengthened the current conflict-of-interest ordinance which requires a council member with a conflict of interest to withdraw from discussion, leave the dais and abstain from voting on the matter by forbidding council members from lobbying other council members on a matter in which they stand to gain an economic benefit.
The ordinance defined conflict of interest as any circumstance prohibited by the Municipal Officers' and Employees' Ethics Act, and economic interest as a direct pecuniary or material benefit accrued as a result of an official act.
The measure also forbade council members from representing special interest groups before the council, or city staff having responsibility for making recommendations to the council, if such representation would cause a conflict of interest.
Council members would also have been forbidden from using the prestige of their office for the purpose of advancing a private interest, or imply any ability to influence city action on any basis other than merits, Council Attorney Neil Lindberg said.
"This ordinance is essentially saying a council member shouldn't be getting paid for voting on something," he said.
The original draft also included residents who serve on Provo city boards, but the measure had been rewritten to relate only to City Council members.
At the study session, Councilman Steve Turley introduced himself as "the white elephant in the room" and credited himself as the impetus for the creation of this proposed ordinance because of an "awkward situation" that happened at a meeting several months ago
Turley said he doesn't see why an ordinance forbidding council members from lobbying their fellow councilors is necessary because council members are accustomed to saying "no" to their colleagues on a frequent basis.
Councilman George Stewart said he wants to avoid the appearance of evil.
"I don't want another council member lobbying me for something for his own economic benefit," he said. "The appearance of it is bad."
Clark said she felt the ordinance imposed on individuals' freedom of speech.
Lindberg said the ordinance is legally defensible because it doesn't make reference to the content of the regulated speech, it is narrowly tailored to serve legitimate government interest of preventing a council member from using his or her office to promote the member's direct personal economic interest and it leaves adequate alternative channels of communication a council member can still submit written material or have another person represent the person before the council.
Councilwoman Midge Johnson said she thinks they already have an ordinance that is clear and the new ordinance offers no punitive measure for offending council members that they don't have access to already.
She also said any council member soliciting her on an issue he or she had an interest in could expect a boomerang effect. "I don't think that would serve them well at all," she said.
Stewart moved to exclude some of the language regarding a council member representing special interests or using their prestige to advance a private interest before a motion was called to vote on the ordinance.The City Council struck the measure down in a 4-3 vote, with Johnson, Turley, Clark and Councilwoman Sherrie Hall Everett voting against it.
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