Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ethics Commission

At tomorrow night's City Council meeting the Council will consider Bill Number G-12-07 which proposes an Ethics Commission for the city of New Albany. The ordinance has been lumbering toward tomorrow's vote for several months now. In fact, it was first considered during 2010 but was not brought forward until this year.

The purpose of the proposal is to lay the groundwork for the formation of an ethics commission. It is not to form that commission as a working body. All the Council is voting on now is to enable the body to form; for the appointers to fulfill their task of naming members to the commission. Once appointed, the commission members must get to work in writing the bylaws of the commission. The ordinance allows only three months for this formative task to be completed.

The significance of the distinction of enabling versus crafting is to insulate the commission from the inevitable charges of favoritism, cronyism or any other similar ism one might foresee. I hope the commission will act as a sounding board for citizens' concerns about the interplay of commerce and government within our city. Again, the yet-to-be-formed commission has wide leeway to draw up its mandate and the methodology of pursuing that mandate. Neither the Council nor the Administration will have a direct hand in guiding this commission through the drafting of its constitution. I believe, however, the newly appointed commission members could benefit from  reading material recommended and forwarded to them by the Council and the Administration.

On quite a few occasions Council meetings have featured charges lodged by citizens against City personnel. The Ethics Commission should now become the venue for the voicing of those concerns. That forum should allow for a thorough, dispassionate, and apolitical hearing of those complaints. Sometimes people are too close to the process of government to know if a certain action passes the smell test necessary for good government. Sometimes people are too timid or feel that their voices will not be heard, and so retreat from speaking up when they see something that troubles them about local government. I hope the Commission is so constituted to allay those fears and to invite a wider circle of citizens into the oversight of their government.

In discussing the role the appointers were asked to play in this process, several of them said that to be asked to participate in the governance of their community was an honor. If I were not involved in government and were asked to perform such a task I would likewise consider it an honor, and one I would approach seriously. I believe the Ethics Commission can be a valuable tool for good government in our city. It is by no means a panacea. It is my hope that once this commission is formed and in place for some time that it will prove its worth to the community.