The Roeland Park City Council’s ethics attorney is recommending several changes to the city’s ethics ordinance, among them to revise a section that can make a public officer guilty of a violation through “no fault of his or her own.”
The council recessed into executive session at the start of a committee meeting this week, citing attorney-client privilege, to talk about the ethics ordinance. After emerging from the closed meeting, the council approved making public the topic of the private discussion which included a memorandum from ethics attorney David Waters and several suggested revisions to the city ethics ordinance.
Among concerns Waters cited in his memo is the fact that the city’s ordinance does not allow an officer to abstain from a vote in order to avoid a conflict. It appears that currently a public officer who has an interest in an entity with business coming before the city could be automatically guilty of violating the ordinance.
“The current Code is also quite prosecutorial in nature,” Waters wrote, “establishing that any violation is a public offense (crime) to be prosecuted in court.” The memo continues, “Violations may be in the eyes of the beholder, and such violations could not likely be prosecuted as public offenses.” Waters later notes that some provisions of the code contend that being found guilty of a public offense, “(any public offense, including, perhaps, minor traffic offenses) would automaticalling cause a forfeiture of one’s office.”
At one point the memo cites the recent case of Prairie Village councilor David Morrison, noting that the court found judicial ouster to be a “drastic remedy” available only on serious wrongdoing.
Waters also found the ordinance allows almost any public officer, including committee volunteers, to request an ethics opinion. It also makes the opinions confidential unless waived, creating attorney-client relationships between the attorney and each individual requesting an opinion. Besides potentially being costly, it creates conflicts for the attorney, the memo says.
The full text of the memo and suggested ordinance changes are embedded below.