Monday, September 8, 2014

Situational ethics in St Paul

Does the City of St Paul have a code of ethics for it's elected officials so the public can be clear as well as elected officials when a situation erupts as happened in the Black Bear Crossings settlement? Underlying the $800,000 settlement is the personal relationship that's between Councilperson Amy Brendmoen and the St Paul Director of Parks and Recreation Michael Hahm.  Did it play a factor in St Paul's interaction with Black Bear Crossings and the large settlement?  Some people may believe it did, while others do not.  The public may never know.

When one reviews conflict of interest guidelines/rules in Minnesota, they are mostly tied to personal relationships for financial gain.  It appears none where a personal relationship can be tied in with policy change, killing of a proposal, or just using influence to make things happen.  But maybe there should be.  How it is defined is the tricky part, though.  Should it be done on a state or local level?

Speaking with many people last week on the settlement, it is clear there needs to be some space for the elected official to do their work, their "constituent" advocacy, also to push and shove when need be with agencies, but there also needs to be rules to limit the undue influence when there appears to be a conflict of interest because of a personal relationship.

City leaders in City Hall may think it is not a big issue, personal relationships and conflict of interest, but the public gets it and do know what's appropriate or not.  The public just has broader definitions of conflicts of interest.

For your information:
Conflict of Interest definitions from other states:

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis of the issues. Supporters of Amy Brendmoen/Mike Hahm thought it was enough to simply throw up their hands and say, "Its not illegal to have a relationship!" No its not. But that isn't the point; no one is suggesting criminal charges are going to be brought because they had an affair. The lawsuit itself which brought about the $800,000 settlement against the city was a civil suit. These are questions of ethics, as you point out. How do we expect our representatives - be they elected or appointed - to conduct themselves? If they don't conduct themselves properly, should there be accountability or responsibility for their actions? The way this was all handled, the public was bluntly told the answer to that question is "No." That concerns me. For example, the details of this case are sealed by the terms of the settlement. Why? Its $800,000 of the public's money - why don't we have a right to know? I'm sure its convenient for council member Brendmoen and parks director Mike Hahm, who not only keep their jobs, but we don't even find out what they did to warrant the city happily writing an $800,000 check to make this case go away. The city council's decision to sweep this matter under the rug, by placing the settlement on the "consent agenda" was also troubling from a good/open government perspective. Thank goodness for a couple of journalists who followed and reported this story!