Borough addresses ethics: Mayor, assembly push for better training, update code

Posted: Friday, December 31, 2010

Editor's note: The Clarion this week has been taking a look back at some of the people and issues in the news in 2010.

Borough addresses ethics: Mayor, assembly push for better training, update codeIf there's one thing most borough leaders agreed on in the past year, it is that ethics are a difficult thing to legislate.

"You cannot pass a law saying people will be ethical," Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey said. "Ethics is still an attitude of the heart We have to be realistic with that intent."

Although ethics might be a thing of the heart it also requires some procedural monitors.

This topic came up more than once this year after the mayor's former chief of staff, Hugh Chumley, resigned in January amid a paperwork snafu.

He failed to file the borough's requisite "Intent to do Business" form for truck maintenance equipment he had sold to the borough on a sole source contract for $18,000.

Both Chumley and Carey apologized for what they deemed an oversight, and Chumley returned the money. He also returned an additional $1,800 for a separate sales transaction, also undertaken without the required intent form.

The borough assembly held a series of discussions on how and whether to deal with Chumley's violation, even considering an ordinance to erase the entire transaction. That move eventually failed in a 5-4 vote.

The borough assembly also took on an overhaul of the borough's code of ethics as well as new education and paperwork to reduce conflicts of interest for borough employees.

Carey proposed more awareness of the borough's policies on ethics for employees. He recommended that borough employees be well versed in the policies regarding doing business with the borough, taking employment outside the borough and other scenarios that could potentially cause a conflict of interest.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly enacted a new comprehensive code of ethics for municipal officials in April that mandated they file a notice of intent to do business before entering a contract with the borough as well as clarifying some other ethical conduct for elected officials on declaring conflicts of interests.

Carey said the borough had an ethics statute and established forms surrounding outside employment, or moonlighting, intent to do business and general ethics, but before the incident very few employees filled them out.

"We took on re-writing all of those," he said. "I think it was very well-received that they were needed to be looked at and re-written."

Carey's staff streamlined the forms, even including another form to be signed by borough employees that stated they had seen, and understood, the other ones.

The borough also held ethics training for all employees to talk about the new forms, when they need to be filled out and other issues like the maximum value of gifts that can be received by employees before it becomes an ethics issue ($100 throughout the year).

"The training had to do with reporting requirements and forms that were created to meet the borough's new mandated law," said Duane Bannock, who filled in as Carey's acting chief of staff after Chumley resigned.

Bannock said he put on the training as one of the last things before he left the position to resume his job as manager of the Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Program in July.

"I don't believe necessarily that ethics can be taught," he said.

But Bannock's training included some scenarios that could cause ethical dilemmas and discussed how best to handle the situation.

"I think it was an important area that had not been previously addressed in the detail the borough assembly wanted it to be," he said.

Borough Assembly President Gary Knopp introduced the latest amendment to the code of ethics this year to prohibit elected officials from disclosing information from an executive session. The new legislation was enacted unanimously at the assembly's December meeting.

"You can't really legislate ethics but it's probably not bad to have a guideline to go by," Knopp said.

But, he said, there still might be some updates to the code.

Knopp, a private contractor who sometimes does work for the borough, said that the code just requires the intent to do business form to be filled out but after that "it does nothing."

"It should trigger something that requires more scrutiny," he said. "That's an issue that I believe administration is going the address."

Carey said he feels that the borough has "absolutely" fixed the problems that ultimately caused Chumley to resign.

"There was a need for a higher degree of education about them," he said about the borough's policies and procedures on ethics. "Individuals are aware of ethics standards."

"We've done a much better job than we ever have done before," Carey added.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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