In a low-key and sparsely attended Durango City Council meeting Tuesday, councilors requested some tweaks to the city’s proposed codes of Ethics and Conduct.
The codes have come together relatively quickly for city government. Staff originally was directed to draft a code July 8, and the plan is to hold the first of two readings required for adoption Sept. 16.
“The code is designed to reinforce public trust in city government, make government transparent and accountable and avoid any perceived or apparent improprieties,” said Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager, who has led the effort of drafting and revising the code. “We want to avoid the use of public office for private gain and conflicts of interest.”
City staff held two workshops with the public and a study session with city councilors on the code in August. Some changes already had been made by after those sessions.
“Since the first draft, we have made the Board of Ethics both proactive and reactive, made consequences stronger for breaking the codes and acknowledged a right to privacy at the beginning of the complaint,” Miles said. “Also, the board will be made up of five at-large members, three of whom must be city residents.”
Because no one made a comment during the official public hearing for the code Tuesday, councilors proposed several adjustments and changes of their own. Councilor Dick White had the most concerns and suggestions.
“I’m glad we’re not going to have the first reading tonight,” he said, mentioning in particular the definition of confidential information beyond what is covered in executive sessions. “Our newspaper rightly raised the issue that the definition could be seen as creating a cloak we can hide behind arbitrarily. I’d like to see us narrow that to be more specific without putting ourselves in a straitjacket.”
City Attorney Dirk Nelson proposed some different wording.
“This will probably come up rarely,” he said. “It’s about the misuse of a piece of information you have because of your unique positions. It’s something that would be beneficial or harmful if prematurely disclosed when you learned it with a reasonable assumption of privacy.”
Other changes included:
Requiring the board to render an opinion within 30 days of a complaint instead of the originally proposed 65.
Adjusting wording so the city clerk has five days to inform a city officer, volunteer or contractor that an ethics or conduct complaint has been filed against them, eliminating the proviso that the person may request a copy of the complaint immediately.
Defining a conflict of interest if a city official owns more than 25 percent of a local company that might be doing business with the city.
The reworked code will be submitted for its first public reading, scheduled for Sept. 16, with councilors scheduled to vote on it after the second reading.
In other action: Council got some good news about city revenue from City Manager Ron LeBlanc on Tuesday. Sales-tax revenue was up by 3.3 percent in July compared with July 2013, with year-to-date sales-tax revenue up 5.2 percent. Lodgers-tax revenue was up 9.8 percent this July compared with July a year ago, with year-to-date lodgers-tax revenue up 13.1 percent.