The Ethics Ad Hoc committee appointed at the beginning of 2019 twice dissolved without detailing any policy for dealing with the ethical conflicts of elected officials. They did produce a resolution, a list of “Whereas, Whereas” statements (one of which had to be removed because it was false information about a state law). These were followed by a couple “Therefore” statements and another recommendation to dissolve the committee. Again, the resolution did not include a policy pertaining to the Commissioners potential unethical behaviors.
The Code of Ethics Policy for the county includes requirements that conduct in official affairs should be above reproach. It requires Commissioners to disclose any conflict of interest and states that even the appearance of improper conduct should be avoided. Mr. Jewett, representing District 3, commented that it is “not anybody’s business” what his financial involvements are. Mr. Clous, representing District 5, feels a Commissioner can still vote, even if there is a conflict of interest.
As to enforcement, the Policy states any employee or appointed official who violates the provisions of the Code shall be subject to disciplinary action up to, and including, discharge. Unfortunately, there is no mention of a process for reporting or enforcing any violation by a Commissioner or other elected official. Mr. Jewett stated there is no need for a more detailed policy because the Commissioners “can monitor ourselves.”
Committee assignments by Chair Rob Henschel, representing District 7, have raised suspicion. Ms. Coffia, representing District 1, which houses the Cherry Capital Airport, was blocked for the second year from sitting on the committee deciding whether the airport will change from a Commission to an Authority.
Mr. Clous, part owner of Eastwood Construction, was recently awarded a position on the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, which facilitates redevelopment of contaminated property, and the Lank Bank, which acquires property for economic development. He was also appointed to the Building Code Board of Appeals. These assignments should send up red flags for anyone working in construction in the Grand Traverse area.
When community members asked who a Commissioner might be accountable to, they were told simply, “the voters.” As things stand now, nothing can be done to limit conflicts of interest until the next election.
If the only way for the community to hold a Commissioner accountable is to vote them out of office, community members need to prepare for November 2020. Be sure to pay attention to what happens over the next year. If you can’t attend the Commission meetings at 8am on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month, or your specific Township meetings, you can watch the meetings through the websites.
We have past the time when members of a community can assume their elected officials’ prime interest is the benefit of the community.