County's code of ethics will wait
By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 3, 2009 1:46 PM
Wayne County commissioners agreed Tuesday morning with fellow board member Steve Keen about adopting a code of ethics for the board -- just not with his timing.
Keen's motion for county attorney Borden Parker to prepare a draft code for adoption next spring was voted down 5-1, with Keen casting the lone vote in favor of his motion. Commissioner Jack Best was absent.
Keen's original motion was for Parker to have the draft ready by the board's first October meeting. He later amended it to the spring.
He noted that House Bill 1452, which was signed into law Aug. 5, requires a code of ethics for certain boards, including commissioners. He asked if commissioners currently have one.
The new law also requires that board members receive education on ethics laws.
The commissioners have not adopted such a policy, Parker said.
Parker added that the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and League of Municipalities are working on a draft code of ethics.
Commissioner John Bell said he was told by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners that a statewide approach was being undertaken so that every county would not have separate and different codes of ethics.
"I would recommend seeing what the draft is before acting," County Manager Lee Smith said.
"I would suggest we wait," Commissioner Andy Anderson added.
Keen said he had before him a copy of a code of ethics adopted by Warren County commissioners as well as ones approved by town councils.
"There are several boards with their own codes of ethics," he said.
With that in mind, he asked if would be possible for Parker to draft a code of ethics for Wayne County.
"You have one coming and it sounds like it will be quick and they are basing it on the new law," Smith said. "I worked in Columbus County years ago, and they used to have one. But I guess they are trying to base it on what the new law is."
He suggested waiting to look at the draft and, "you may want to use some of those things (being prepared on the state level)."
The codes of ethics vary greatly, he said. Smith said some are simple, while others are much more detailed.
"It is horribly complicated to understand what you are supposed to do as an individual on disclosure of financials," Smith said.
Keen then made his motion that Parker draft a code of ethics in accordance with the new law for review next month.
"You have a great idea," Commissioner J.D. Evans said. "But the timing is important."
Evans said he would like to see something done statewide that, "we all can agree on then we can move forward."
Keen amended his motion to have the draft ready by March.
Anderson suggested that Parker "keep up" with what is being done by the League of Municipalities and N.C. Association of County Commissioners.
"The state of North Carolina has a code of ethics already," Bell said. "Unless you go similar to what the state has, you are blowing in the wind. It is so personal and asks so many questions about you and your family. So we need to wait for the details."
"The details are here," Keen said.
Chairman Bud Gray ended the exchange when he said there was a motion on the floor and asked if everyone was clear on it.
"Not to me," Commissioner Sandra McCullen said.
"The motion is to instruct Mr. Parker, the county attorney, to draft a code of ethics for Wayne County commissioners in accordance with state law and to present to us on March 1," Keen said.
Gray called for the vote, and the motion was denied.
Smith told commissioners he had just been handed a message phoned in by state Rep. Efton Sager who had been listening to radio coverage of the meeting.
Smith said that Sager, a former commissioner, said the law is not effective until Jan. 1, 2011, so that county has plenty of time to address the issue.