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Stricter guidelines in the works for city panel members

Ashland has one of the most stringent ethics ordinances in the state relating to municipal employees&

conduct, according to City Attorney Mike Franell.

&

It&

s one of the tightest ethics provisions I find anywhere, with some exceptions,&

he told the Ashland City Council at a study session on Thursday night. &

It applies to employees but it does not apply to [members of public] boards and commissioners and elected officials.&

Now, the Ashland City Council would like those same ethical guidelines to apply to appointed and elected officials, as well.

After hearing Franell&

s presentation, the council, in an informal straw pole, told him they would like these same guidelines that apply to the mayor, members of the council, and to the members of city&

s various boards and commissions too.

&

What would be the problem with taking the city code and extending it to cover elected officials and members of the commissions?&

Councilor Jack Hardesty asked of Franell.

Franell said this could be done but he noted that it would prevent elected and appointed officials from receiving gifts of entertainment, which are currently allowed under the state standards. In June, city councilors were criticized by Philip Lang, a resident, for accepting free tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Adopting the standards set for employees would make this illegal.

The city attorney also urged the council to consider adding a provision dealing with a public official who would represent a client before a municipal board, commission or the council.

Over the past year and a half, several planning commissioners have been accused by members of the public of deliberating over planning actions dealing with people they have, or have had, a financial relationship with. Kerry KenCairn, who resigned from the commission in November, deliberated over a project brought forward by developers she has done landscape design work for in the past and Mike Morris deliberated over a proposed annexation brought forward by Doug Irvine, who had given him a $500 campaign donation in his bid for a seat on the city council.

Franell said KenCairn&

s activity amounted to a &

perceived conflict of interest&

that should have been disclosed. In an e-mail sent to the council list serve in February of 2005 he said state law does not require a planning commissioner to disclose campaign contributions before planning actions.

The council and Mayor John Morrison were unanimous that they did not want members of public bodies representing clients before boards they sit on, but they were split on whether members of public bodies should be able to represent clients before other public bodies.

&

I would want those parts of our community &

architects and engineers &

to be able to serve on our boards and commissions,&

said Councilor Kate Jackson, noting that to prevent people from the development community from being able to represent clients before any board or commission would effectively eliminate their expertise from the city&

s deliberative functions.

But Morrison said he thought this practice should be discouraged. &

If you serve on a board or commission it&

s probably a good idea not to appear before another board or commission,&

he said.

Franell said this is difficult to enforce in a small town because of the limited pool of expertise.

Councilor Russ Silbiger said, &

The most important thing is transparency.&

He added, &

Even the hint of a potential conflict of interest should be made known, and as often as possible.&

The council also tentatively agreed that the city attorney, not an appointed committee of citizens, should be in charge of handling ethics complaints. Franell thought this was a good idea, as well. If he should become the subject of an ethical complaint, he said, the investigation would be turned over to the assistant city attorney.

City Recorder Barbara Christensen said she is scheduling a presentation on ethics in public affairs that will be open to the public.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x 226 or bplain@dailytidings.com.