Neall aide raises questions about financial disclosure proposal

September 20, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

An aide to County Executive Robert R. Neall expressed concern last night that requiring members of boards and commissions to file financial disclosure forms could discourage participation.

Myron V. Wotring, Mr. Neall's legislative liaison, also raised questions about a proposal to protect whistle-blowers. The proposal would allow a county employee who is retaliated against for reporting an ethics violation to sue the jurisdiction within a year.

"We feel that this is a major policy question," Mr. Wotring said. "Lord knows, we get sued enough."

The proposed revisions to the ethics law were drafted by the Ethics Commission, an independent body created by a charter amendment approved by voters in the November 1992 election. Previously, ethics questions were determined by the county attorney, who is appointed by the executive.

Other proposed revisions tighten and clarify sections in the law concerning conflict of interest and gifts county employees can accept.

"Employees must know what is expected of them, and the public must know where the lines are drawn," said Myrna Siegel, chairman of the Ethics Commission.

Mr. Wotring noted that the proposed bill lists 78 positions that would require financial disclosure statements, adding 49 positions to the 28 listed in the existing law.

Currently, members of six boards -- the Board of Appeals, the Planning Advisory Board, the Board of License Commissioners, the Housing Authority, the Personnel Board and the Parks and Recreation Commission -- must file financial disclosure forms.

The bill proposes adding eight more boards, including the Ethics Commission, said James Jones, the commission's executive director. Those bodies that deal with licensing or issuing permits would be added under the proposed measure, he said.

Mr. Wotring noted that it is already difficult to attract qualified and interested people to serve on boards and commissions. "Perhaps we're asking a little too much of these folks to ask them to do this full-fledged financial report," he said.

He suggested using a short financial disclosure form for board and commission members, like the one used by the state.

An alternative is to allow the executive to determine the members of which boards need to report their finances and in what manner, as is now the practice.

Stanley Ferguson, a member of the Plumbing Commission, one of the bodies that would be required to file disclosure forms, said that many businessmen would not serve if the proposal is adopted.

"I think you might as well just forget about a lot of these boards" if financial disclosure is required, he said.

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