Disclosure bill is an attack on rights panel, chairman says

June 17, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

A financial disclosure bill before the County Council was designed to make mischief for the Human Rights Commission, the commission chairman said Monday.

Roger W. Jones suggested that the commission has become too zealous for some people's tastes, and that critics might like to tame it by limiting the number of applicants for membership. One way to do that, he said, would be to require nominees to fill out the county's nine-page financial disclosure statement.

"This commission has been more out front than any other [on human rights issues]," Jones told the council Monday night. "Why is [financial disclosure] necessary now after 23 years?"

The disclosure statement is required of candidates, elected officials, certain appointed county employees, and members and nominees to 11 appointed boards and commissions.

The statement does not disclose dollar amounts. It does, however, list assets held by spouses and dependent children. Filers must list the address of property they own, the names of companies in which they own stock, their employers, and employers of their spouses and dependent children.

They must describe gifts of $50 or more and give the name of the donor, list business offices and directorships they hold and disclose debts owed anyone doing business with the county.

Although it makes four more boards subject to the disclosure requirement, the bill was crafted solely to weaken the Human Rights Commission, Jones charged. He asked the council to defer action on the bill.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, asked Ethics Commissioner Suzanne Whitmore what had led the Ethics Commission to ask for the change. She said a department head suggested that Human Rights commissioners be included among those required file disclosure statements.

"In other words, this was aimed at the Human Rights Commission," Gray said.

"No," Whitmore replied.

The idea of including the Human Rights Commission came up first, but after study, the Ethics Commission recommended that the disclosure law be expanded to cover other boards, she said.

When Gray asked Whitmore to name the department head who asked for the change, Whitmore refused to say. She said she was not sure whether the department head had come to the Ethic Commission in confidence.

Gray asked why the Ethics Commission was not recommending that all county boards and commissions file financial disclosure statements. "To add some while omitting others implies that some commissions are more trustworthy than others," Jones said.

Personnel Board chairman Dennis W. Vittetoe, whose board also would be required to make financial disclosures, agreed. "We can govern and monitor ourselves," Vittetoe told the council. "Would it make our decisions better [if board members disclose their finances]? I don't think so."

"I'm worried [disclosure] may chase people away," said Darrel Drown, R-2nd.

"I think it's a little on the ridiculous side," said Charles C. Feaga, R-5th. "It looks like a witch hunt."

Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she wants to know the rationale behind the bill. "I'm concerned about where this has come from," she said.

Common Cause member Frank Chase supported the bill, saying he saw no reason that it would restrict membership on boards and commissions.

Community activist John W. Taylor agreed. "People who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear," he said.

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