Does Denton Need Ethics Reform?
Recent newspaper stories and guest columns have raised the issue of ethics laws governing the behavior of local public officials and have some in our community demanding “ethics reform” in the form of a new robust Denton Ethics Ordinance.
Much of the concern centers on the fact that Denton doesn’t have its own ethics “ordinance.” We have an Ethics Resolution that lists out certain values by which fellow council members agree to abide. Things like:
- I will be ethical
- I will be service-oriented
- I will be fiscally responsible
- I will be communicative
- I will be cooperative
- I will be progressive and receptive to new ideas
- I will not be delinquent in paying monies owed the City
To be sure, it reads a bit more like the Boy Scout Oath than it does a substantial set of laws governing the behavior of public officials charged with overseeing a city of 120,000 with a budget nearing $1 billion. If all we had was this resolution and these statements of values keeping potential corruption in check, I would be in complete agreement that we need strong ethics reform and we need it now.
But the resolution goes further and points to a long list of Civil Statutes, State Penal Laws, and City Documents that apply to Denton elected officials and city employees and carry with them a clear path toward prosecution and hefty penalties.
Consider the following list of state laws on the books that govern our actions as public officials. Consider, as well, that any citizen with evidence that a public official is violating one or more of these laws can go to our police chief, the district attorney, the grand jury, even the Texas Attorney General to raise the issue.
|ETHICS MATTER||LEGAL REFERENCE||PENALTY|
|Financial Statements||Gov’t Code 145-003 and 572||Class B Misdemeanor|
|Open Meetings Act||Chapter 551||Class B Misdemeanor|
|Public Information Act||Chapter 552||Class B Misdemeanor|
|Conflicts of Interest||Gov’t Code 171||Class A Misdemeanor|
|Disclosure of Certain Relationships||Gov’t Code 176||Class C/B/A Misdeanor depending on amount of money involved|
|Official Misconduct||C.C.P Art 3.04|
|Nepotism||Gov’t Code 573.041||Class C Misdemeanor|
|Retaliation Prohibited for Reporting Violations of Law||Gov’t Code 554.002|
|Confidentiality of Information in Bids or Proposals||Gov’t Code 252.049||Class C or B Misdemeanor/Forfeiture and Bar|
|Bribery||Penal Code 36.02||2nd Degree Felony|
|Improper Influence||Penal Code 36.04||Class A Misdemeanor|
|Tampering with Witness||Penal Code 36.05||3rd Degree Felony|
|Obstruction or Realiation||Penal Code 36.06||3rd or 2nd Degree Felony|
|Offering Gift to Public Servant||Penal Code 36.09||Class A Misdemeanor|
|Gift to Public Servant by Person Subject to His Jurisdiction||Penal Code 36.08|
|Abuse of Official Capacity||Penal Code 36.02||Class C Misdemeanor to 1st Degree Felony|
|Official Oppression||Penal Code 39.03||Class A Misdemeanor|
|Misuse of Official Information||Penal Code 39.06||3rd Degree Felony|
|Council Travel Ordinance||No. 2006-273|
|Denton Ethics Resolution||R2006-003|
|Ethics Portion of Resolution||R2009-015|
We held a council discussion on Monday to discuss this issue, examine the current statutes, and provide an opportunity for those who feel something stronger is needed to demonstrate that need. The very relevant question was asked of our fellow council members: what is missing from this list? What ethical issue is not already being addressed by this long list of state laws? What problem is there that needs to be solved?
So far, there has been no specific answer or answers to these questions. I remain unconvinced that there is a problem with the current laws, but look forward to hearing from others on this topic.