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West Jordan Journal

City council passes second part of ethics ordinance

Dec 08, 2016 02:27PM ● By Tori LaRue

The West Jordan City Council passed the second part of an ethics ordinance that will allow the city to create its own ethics commission.

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

West Jordan leaders may now create their own ethics commission to investigate complaints against elected officials after the city council voted in favor of an ordinance during an Oct. 26 meeting. 

The vote was the second of a two-part ordinance created by the city attorney’s office to aid the city in dealing with ethical controversies involving elected persons. The first part, which set forth ethical standards and guidelines for elected officials, passed unanimously on Sept. 7, but the second part, with its 4–3 vote, wasn’t as widely accepted. 

Councilman Chad Nichols, the only council member to voice his reason for opposition in the open meeting, said he wasn’t completely against part two, which would enable the creation of a city-based ethics committee, but suggested a three to six-month wait time to decide whether it was necessary. 

“Since we began this conversation a couple months ago, I have had several constituents raise concerns over West Jordan’s institution of such a commission, and so this is just a pause,” he said. “Tonight I won’t be supportive.”

Nichols voiced three concerns with the commission: budgetary implications, duplication and political involvement. 

The ordinance states that each member of the commission will receive $100 and mileage for each meeting, hearing or training session they are involved in, which Nichols compared to a “blank check.” 

“[The commission] may never be convened, which means there would be no expense, but it could be convened multiple times a year, and then there really is,” he said. 

The state already has an ethics commission, which West Jordan’s ethics complaints would be sent to. Nichols voiced his thoughts that West Jordan may be unnecessarily duplicating these efforts. 

Lastly, Nichols said the commission may become “extremely political” ruining their ability to remain unbiased. 

Councilman Dirk Burton disagreed, saying he believes things could become more political at the state level. 

Mayor Kim Rolfe also disagreed with Nichols, saying he doesn’t feel like people at the state and county level pay attention to West Jordan and thinks people within a city system could be more aware of case details. 

Rolfe moved to approve the ordinance, which was seconded by Councilwoman Sophie Rice. Council members Chris McConnehey and Zach Jacob voted against the motion, but Burton and Councilman Jeff Haaga voted in favor, passing the ordinance. 

Both parts of the ethics ordinance were written and considered after the West Jordan Journal and other news outlets published stories about Haaga’s hit and run encounter at a local bar on July 19 in which he appeared to be intoxicated according to witnesses. Police bodycam footage from later that night shows Haaga claiming he was “protected” because he is a councilman. 

Residents, former mayors and Alliance for a Better Utah, called for Haaga’s resignation, but he did not respond. Also, there was no way to remove Haaga from office because the city did not have a written ordinance backing ethical standards for elected officials. 

While Rolfe claims the ethics ordinance was not created because of Haaga, part one of the ordinance could be used to investigate similar situations in the future upon formal complaint. Haaga is safe from having his incident reviewed by the committee, because no complaint can be reviewed that occurred before the original part of the ethics ordinance was passed on Sept. 7. 

Part two of the ordinance outlines the body who would oversee complaints against elected officials. 

The commission will be made up of five members with one alternate member. Members of the ethics commission must be 18 years or older, have high ethical character and not be an official, officer or employee of West Jordan. 

The commission must be made up of one person who previously served as a judge, one person who is or was a prosecuting attorney or criminal defense attorney in Utah, one person who was previously a professional investigator, one person who previously served as a mayor or council member in Utah and one person who is residing and has resided in the city for at least one year. The alternate must have at least one year of residency in West Jordan as well. 

The city manager will appoint commission members with approval from the city council for two-year terms. 

The commission may review complaints from two or more members of the city council or three or more voters who reside within the city or who pay a fee or tax to the city. 

If the complaint is not dismissible, the commission can conduct a confidential, independent administrative investigation of the complaint, refer the matter to an independent non-criminal investigator for fact-finding, conduct a hearing or perform a combination of these options. After taking one of these steps, the commission reports to the city council and recommends appropriate action, including censure, additional ethics training or removal from office, according to the ordinance. 

“I’m hopeful this can be a resolution to any potential complaints that are filed,” City Attorney David Brickey said.