Roeland Park, on split vote, agrees to changes in ethics code suggested by attorney

City_of_Roeland_Park

Roeland Park finally has a new ethics ordinance. The council on a 7-2 vote with Mayor Joel Marquardt voting, passed the ordinance this week that makes several changes to the city ordinance that had been recommended by David Waters, the city’s ethics attorney.

Roeland Park employs an ethics attorney for the governing body separate from the city attorney.

Last year Waters had suggested several changes to the city’s ordinance, citing conflicts the ordinance presents for the ethics attorney, among other problems. Waters pointed out in a memo at the time that the code allowed any public officer, including volunteer committee members, to ask for a formal advisory opinion without raising the issue first through departments heads, the city administrator, mayor of governing body. Each of those people asking for an opinion also could maintain that the opinions were confidential.

“We consider the City of Roeland Park itself, and not any individual official, to be our client, and we cannot be in the position of representing (and maintaining an attorney-client privilege with) individual officers,” he wrote. Waters suggested that requests for opinions be channeled through the city administration. “I don’t think it works when I can be advising multiple people on the side.”

Councilor Ryan Kellerman said he was concerned that “if one of us is in jeopardy” they would have to go through staff. Michael Rhoades also asked Waters if the advisory section could be left out. Waters responded that it was a risk that he would be put into a conflict without the new section.

Kellerman and Becky Fast voted against the ordinance. Fast said she believed the new council members to be elected next week should be able to vote on it.

On another issue, Waters cited the ouster case of David Morrison in Prairie Village and noted that the existing code called for immediate forfeiture of office for any public offense, including possible minor traffic offenses. That would probably not pass a court test, Waters indicated, because the court described ouster as a “drastic remedy” in the Morrison case.

The old code also said that any ethics violation was a public offense to be prosecuted in court. It also did not allow for abstentions when a councilor declared a conflict of interest on a topic.