City Adopts Ethics Standards for Elected Officials
Oct 07, 2016 01:52PM ● Published by Tori LaRue
The West Jordan City Council approved an ordinance outlining acceptable and unacceptable behaviors of city council members. (West Jordan)
By Tori La Rue | firstname.lastname@example.org
The West Jordan City Council created an ordinance outlining certain ethical standards and guidelines for elected officials at the West Jordan City Council meeting on Sept. 7.
“It’s a new day for West Jordan,” Mayor Kim Rolfe said after the meeting. “We were finally able to get something that all our members of the city council could agree on.”
All members present at the meeting were in agreeance, voting 6–0 to approve the ordinance, yet one city council member was absent from the vote and meeting: Councilmember Jeff Haaga.
Haaga missed four consecutive council meetings after the West Jordan Journal and other news outlets published articles about his hit-and-run encounter at a local bar. He appeared to be intoxicated, according to witnesses at the scene, and police bodycam footage from a conversation later that evening shows Haaga claiming he’s “protected” because of his seat on city council in a conversation later that evening.
Haaga has not responded to petitions from residents, Alliance for a better Utah and former mayors calling for his resignation, and at the time of the incident, there was not a simple way to remove him from office, according to City Attorney David Brickey. The ordinance passed on Sept. 7 outlines what can and cannot be done by elected officials, and could potentially be used to remove Haaga from office, according to Councilmember Chad Nichols.
Rolfe said the ordinance was not created for Haaga but to avoid many conflicts within the city government that have landed West Jordan spots in the news stories throughout the past few years.
“I think this will set the future to be more respective of individuals on the council and will stop some of the issues that we have dealt with,” he said, adding that he’s been working on the ordinance for the past year. “I don’t want to be specific with that, but this will resolve many of the concerns now because there is direction.”
The ordinance outlines ethical duties and violations. Elected officials cannot claim special privileges or that they are “above the law,” should never use their positions to obtain preferential treatment from law enforcement and must attend at least 21 of the 24 regular city council meetings or not receive compensation, according to the ordinance.
The ordinance also states that each elected official should provide current contact information, document their expenditures of city funds and behave in a courteous way.
The ordinance establishes that “crimes of dishonesty, moral turpitude and disorderly conduct” include sex-related crimes, disorderly conduct, domestic violence, other violence, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to cooperate with law enforcement and other similar offences. The newly defined acceptable and unacceptable behavior will allow the council to pursue charges against those who violate the ordinance, Rolfe said.
In the same city council meeting, the council voted to get rid of the council discretionary fund in a 4–2 vote. The fund allowed each council member to spend up to $1,000 on a city credit card for “city purposes.” Council members have questioned the use of fellow council members’ spending habits through Facebook posts during the past year.
The council voted to add $7,000, the collective amount that used to be distributed to individual council members via credit card, to the council contingency fund. The council members need the approval from their fellow city council members to use the contingency funds and will sometimes pay-out-of-pocket for council expenditures before being reimbursed.
Councilmembers Jacobs and Nichols dissented in the majority vote. Nichols said he thinks the discretionary fund isn’t a problem in itself. The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District members have a similar discretionary fund, but their purchases are publically disclosed.
“I wish we’d have implemented something like that,” he said. “We needed more accountability, but I don’t know that we should have done away with the whole thing.”