Financial disclosure bill decried at council session Measure aims to punish rights board, foes say

June 24, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

A bill that would require members of the Human Rights Commission and four other appointed boards to disclose their finances before appointment came under heavy attack Monday.

The bill, sponsored by the county Ethics Commission, would require nominees to the Human Rights Commission, the Animal Matters Hearing Board, the Board of Electrical Examiners, the Board of Health and the Personnel Board to join members of 11 other boards and commissions in filling out the county's nine-page financial disclosure statement.

"We feel it is not intrusive," ethics Commissioner Suzanne Whitmore told the council. "I don't feel it's a great deal to ask" since the form does not include dollar amounts.

Personnel Board member Cecil G. Christian Jr. disagreed. Christian, who has served on the Personnel Board 10 years as a member and chairman, said he never has encountered a situation where a member had to be excused because of a financial conflict of interest. The board hears appeals from county employees who have been disciplined or fired.

Although he would be exempt from the legislation, Christian said that if it were in effect at the time of his appointment he would not have served. "I definitely would not find this worth it," he said.

"How are [Personnel Board] decisions going to be improved [by the bill]?" he asked. "I don't understand it. I don't see the necessity for it. There are enough laws on the books already that are meaningless."

Human Rights Chairman Roger W. Jones apologized to Christian and members of the four other boards included in the bill, saying those board members were caught up in the "chicanery" of an administration attempting to use the bill as a weapon to punish and tame the rights commission.

Jones said he doesn't object to financial disclosure as long as it is required of all appointed boards and commissions. What happened instead, he said, is Citizens Services Director Manus J. O'Donnell appeared before the ethics commission 14 months ago to suggest that financial disclosure be required of Human Rights commissioners.

It was only after the commission complained that it was being singled out that the four other board were added to the bill, Jones said. "It doesn't take 14 months to decide who should fill out a form," he said.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said it appeared to him also that the administration bill "targeted the Human Rights Commission and used other boards to cover its tracks."

Gray wanted to know what criteria the Ethics Commission used in choosing which boards must file financial disclosure statements, since not all boards are required to do so.

Whitmore said the requirements were based on potential conflicts of interest and a need to keep faith with the public.

Gray said conflicts of interest need not be financial. Financial disclosure is necessary, he said, in instances where people might enhance their financial interest or financial well-being because of their influence and decision-making power on a particular board.

Other council members joined Gray in pressing for specific examples of the type of financial conflict of interest that could arise for Human Rights Commission and the Personnel Board. None were forthcoming.

"It looks to me like people on the Ethics Commission are eager beavers who are going overboard," said Charles C. Feaga, R-5th.

"It was useful to have the [ethics] commission review this whole issue," council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, told Whitmore.

"You have a very consistent logic for what you're doing," said Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. "But we may not agree with it."

The council will vote on the bill on July 6.

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