Board: Officials should not profit from funding they influence

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – The city’s Board of Ethics has developed a policy dealing with potential conflicts of interest for members of all city boards and commissions.

On May 14 the ethics board unanimously approved an advisory opinion that had been sought by the Downtown Development Authority. The opinion, which includes a general recommendation to any elected or appointed officials, advises members of city commissions and boards seek to prevent current and future conflicts of interest and appearances of impropriety.

The ethics board further advised that all board or commission members follow the city charter and not seek to enter into any contract with the city while an officer or an agent; it also urged full disclosure of any conflict of interest in a timely manner.

In addition to recommending that members of boards or commissions avoid any appearance of impropriety while serving the city as an employee or volunteer, it also advises them to recuse themselves from discussions and voting, and – when necessary – resign from a board or commission to avoid such an appearance.

The ethics board interpreted city ordinances to prohibit an officer or employee to vote on a matter that may be interpreted as providing them with personal gain.

Ordinances prohibit employees and officers from entering into any contract with the city other than their own personal contract for their job. If an employee influences any conflict of interest in awarding a job or contract, they are required to disclose fully their relationship within two weeks to the city clerk.

The ethics board, chaired and advised by City Attorney Anthony Guerriero, includes John Cicotte, the Rev. Tracy Fressel, the Rev. Joel Holls, and the Rev. Joseph Mallia. It met several times in recent months when questions were raised asking whether Downtown Development Authority board members who voted to approve a $2 million loan to the Lifton Institute for Media Skills could then bid ethically on — and profit from — jobs resulting from the loan.

In addressing queries from two parties, the ethics board chose to let former DDA Director James Sabo resubmit his request as a private citizen, since a voting majority DDA board chose to not renew his contract this spring.

Sabo’s query, which posed specific examples of board members who approved the loan and were said by some to have benefited from subsequent contracts from the Lifton Institute, was not made public. The individuals and companies Sabo named were not released by the ethics board either.

The board replied in writing to Sabo that since he was no longer the acting DDA director, it would not address his inquiry in that particular context. The ethics board has no executive or enforcement power, and serves only in an advisory capacity.

Members did urge Sabo to resubmit his inquiry as a private citizen if he so chose. He and his attorney reportedly have declined to pursue that option.

They also suggested that any proof of business improprieties be turned over to law enforcement bodies.

A twofold inquiry from DDA attorney Dennis Miller was similar, but intentionally nonspecific. He said it was hypothetical and meant to serve as a guideline for future city board and commission members.

Miller’s inquiry asked if a current or past DDA board member who participated in discussions and voted to approve the $2 million loan to the Lifton Institute could benefit directly or indirectly from the money approved as an individual or through a company or business interest.