It's pretty clear that Brendan O'Shaughnessy of the Indianapolis Star doesn't think much of the City-County Council's new ethics code.
Who can blame him?
The proposal gives all employees of the city-county carte blanche to vote on budgets, regardless of financial interest. Why this provision was included is obvious. Both Republicans and Democrats have several members who work for the city-county.
In fairness, I should point out that all legislative bodies can give themselves a pay raise for legislative work, which is certainly a "direct financial interest." We don't make that unethical. But maybe that's because we think the voters will take care of such staggeringly self-interested actions.
What about the more subtle ones? What about a police officer who votes for a massively-increased budget, knowing full well that increased salaries for all will follow? Or what about an employee who votes against across-the-board agency cuts for fear his job might be lost? How likely is the average citizen to know what has happened and respond accordingly?
Moreover, who can look at Monroe Gray's troubles and re-election and tell me citizens always police questionable conduct? Seriously, the bar for our ethics should be defined by which councilor's constituents are the most apathetic, "suckered," or "morally flexible?" Without a code, couldn't a guy consistently vote for his self-interest, make his constituents the beneficiary of questionable largesse, and never worry?
Sorry, but I will always believe that any thought about how I might benefit or suffer should not be part of the city-county councilor's deliberative process, and this code does nothing to stem those considerations. In fact, it explicitly authorizes them.
You see, the code also allows a councilor to vote on a matter if he or she stands to make $5,000 or less. It's unclear from the story whether this is an aggregate for the year, or per vote. Lord knows, I'm praying it's the former. Otherwise, we're going to lose our soul one chunk at a time.
You don't like the substance? Even the symbolic politics of this proposal was botched.
According to the Star, Bob Elrod, the council attorney, said the new code was not meant to suggest that a small benefit does not constitute a conflict of interest.
It suggests precisely that, Bob. Did anybody really think it wouldn't?
But here's my favorite part of the story:
Republican co-chairwoman Ginny Cain said the provision includes council members' spouses and dependent children. She said the intent, for instance, was to allow a council member's son to mow lawns in the neighborhood without having to investigate whether any neighbors have city contracts.Whose son is getting FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS to cut grass? Uh...yeah, that would definitely be somebody trying to buy a city-county councilor through a family member because that "neighbor" certainly isn't paying the market rate!
Trying to inspire confidence, once again the city-county council just took away what we had left.