The city of Denton’s Board of Ethics has again asked the City Council to consider changes to the ethics ordinance following a bumpy first year of administration.
New board chairwoman, Lara Tomlin, sent a letter on behalf of the board on June 13. It was the second such letter the board of ethics sent this year. The letter contained seven recommended changes to the ethics ordinance, restating problems from the first letter and adding a few more.
It’s not clear why the City Council did not take up the board’s first letter, except that it came in February at the start of election season.
The newest recommendations include filling vacancies promptly, prohibiting candidates for city office from serving on the board and allowing the board to revisit its advisory opinions.
After a spate of complaints during the election season, the ethics board was hamstrung by vacancies and didn’t have enough members to handle the work. Some of the complaints were spurred by the former board chairman’s involvement in the controversies, as he was also running for City Council.
The City Council appointed new members to the board to keep the body functioning but stayed mum on the rest.
The spate of complaints covered almost every corner of a political scuffle over polling locations for the spring election. First, Council members Deb Armintor and Paul Meltzer asked the board for an advisory opinion whether they could vote on campus locations, since Meltzer’s wife and Armintor are UNT employees. Two different complaints were filed against then-board chairman Jesse Davis for his involvement in drafting that opinion, since he was also a City Council candidate at the time. Two other complaints were filed against Armintor and Meltzer for ignoring the opinion and voting on the matter.
Six weeks ago, the board heard the complaint against Armintor and declined to sanction her.
At the same time as a courtesy, the board postponed the complaint against Meltzer as his mother died. That hearing has been rescheduled to July 23.
In Tomlin’s letter to the City Council, the board offers to do the work and draft amendments to the ethics code for the council to consider and adopt. The number one reform from Tomlin’s letter, and the first letter, was to the city’s definition of a conflict of interest.
The Denton City Council drafted the definition, along with the rest of the ethics codes, during work sessions with a consulting attorney. The definition has proved unworkable. The ethics board recommended a new definition that is “more in line with state law, and more in keeping with the general public’s understanding of conflicts of interest.”
The letter goes on to say that if the City Council opts to do the work themselves, or delegate it to City Attorney Aaron Leal, “we strongly recommend that the Council consider provisions of the Model Ethics Code.”
City Ethics publishes the Model Ethics Code on its website. The national nonprofit was formed in 2000 to help cities trying to address ethical issues. Many cities across the nation have adopted ethics codes based on the model code.
The Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the board’s latest request during a work session on July 16.