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Letter to the Editor: Enforce conflict of interest rules

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

As pointed out in the mayoral debate and by others, there already exists rules governing what is a conflict of interest in the city’s municipal code. But it is just a matter of the rules “being enforced.”

Since there is an open question of whether the rules are being enforced, I took the liberty of finding the conflict of interest section of the municipal code at the free website Municode. Anyone interested can find the section at this link: http://bit.ly/rmtconflictofinterest.

The good news: while I am not a lawyer, the code does list acts that are “in conflict with the city’s best interest” that are pretty clear. For example, the third item in the list states, “For an elected official or appointed employee to have any direct or indirect interest in any enterprise doing business with the city except as a shareholder in a publicly-owned company where the amount of shares owned represents ten percent of less of the total outstanding shares.” Do any of our current elected officials fit this description? I would say yes.

The bad news: the section following this one defining penalties for violations is not clear and reads in “legalese.” It does not set out any specific process for determining when there is a conflict of interest violation.

So, while there are rules in place for the ethical conduct of our City Council and administration officials, it seems that the rules have no teeth. City officials can claim there are rules and that they are following them without any evidence of a process to back up their claim. And if there is a process, it is not transparent.

Who is responsible for enforcing the conflict of interest rules? When do the rules come into play in votes by the City Council? If someone has an accusation of a conflict of interest violation, who do they go to? Is there an ethics hearing? Do the City Council and administration just internally police themselves? Is there any kind of public body to act as a check and balance on our city officials’ ethical conduct?

Answers to these and other questions shouldn’t have to be found in the municipal code but be easily accessible and readable by everyone if the city government wants to be transparent and earn the trust of its taxpaying residents and businesses. It should not require a lawyer or a letter to the editor to get answers.

A. E. Green

Rocky Mount

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