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May 13, 2008

Council to consider new ethics ordinance

This newspaper, more than any news source in the city, has documented over the last two years the shortcomings of the Metro Ethics Commission, the appointed body that oversees complaints against government officials and is supposed to ensure that rules aren’t being broken in and around City Hall. On Tuesday, in part a result of that reporting, council Republicans were expected to introduce a new ethics ordinance that would expand the commission and its bailiwick, diversify its membership and establish timetables by which it would function. “There’s a lack of transparency when it comes to dealings within the Metro Government itself, as well as dealings in working with entities in the community and such,” Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, said in an interview Tuesday.Fleming, the ordinance sponsor, is also chair of the council’s Rules, Ethics and Appointments committee. He said the ordinance would be introduced Tuesday, and probably assigned to his committee, which would give it a first reading next week. The 35-page proposal would expand those covered under Metro ethics rules to include legislative assistants, all policy makers and people who advise elected officials, Fleming said. It would establish certain timelines for the commission to deal with complaints — for instance, the commission would have 60 days to determine whether to investigate a complaint, and would have to issue a progress report to the council after a case has been open for 180 days. The issue of timing came about because of two cases involving council members: a lingering complaint against Hal Heiner, R-19, and a case involving Bob Henderson, D-14, that was recently dismissed with no consequence after three-and-a-half years of dithering. As well, the proposal would change the membership from seven to nine people, three of whom would be appointed by the majority caucus of the council, three by the minority, and three by the mayor. As it stands, the mayor appoints all seven members, and the council must approve them. Fleming said the proposal has been met with a “decent response” so far, but he expects rigorous debate to follow. —Stephen George