Council expands ethics guidelines

City of Ashland ethics rules will now apply to all elected and appointed officials, not just paid employees.

On Tuesday, an Ashland City Council majority voted to add new ethics provisions to existing standards and broaden the number of people covered by the rules.

Councilors, the mayor and more than 100 volunteers appointed to city boards, commissions and committees face removal from their positions if they violate the ethics rules. They are also subject to any penalties authorized by law.

Paid employees face disciplinary action and any legal penalties.

Among other rules, public officials cannot engage in business or transactions in which they have a personal or financial interest if those actions are incompatible with their official duties, or would tend to impair their independent judgment.

They also cannot accept any valuable gifts from any person or organization with an interest in any city business. Council members and the mayor have been criticized in the past for accepting free tickets to Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays. Each year, OSF receives a city grant paid for with lodging tax revenues.

Elected and appointed officials cannot testify on behalf of clients before the boards, commissions or committees on which they sit.

The City Council majority stopped short of banning any official from testifying for a client in front of other boards, commissions or committees.

Depending on the type of application, a development project can appear before the Ashland Planning Commission, Housing Commission, Historic Commission and Tree Commission.

Some community members feared banning elected and appointed officials from testifying before other panels could prevent builders, architects, arborists, landscape designers, historians and other professionals from serving. Others wanted the ban in order to limit the influence of people in the development industry on the planning process.

Mayor John Morrison said ethics rules were extended to people who had never been covered before. But going too far could stop some residents from volunteering.

"It has to reflect the community that we're in," he said.

Morrison and Councilors Kate Jackson, Russ Silbiger and David Chapman voted in favor of the new ethics rules.

Councilors Eric Navickas, Cate Hartzell and Alice Hardesty voted against the rules, saying they favored an earlier version that would have barred elected and appointed officials from testifying before other panels.

"I'm voting no on this ordinance because I don't think it's strong enough," Navickas said.

A residential designer and organic farmer, Navickas would have limited his own professional opportunities by banning officials from appearing before other panels.

Changes to ethics rules have been on the council's agenda since at least January 2006. Councilors debated the issue several times and made revisions during that time.

But the ethics issue was usually listed toward the end of the agenda for regular council meetings. The council usually does not finish all agenda items before the mandatory meeting stop time of 10:30 p.m.

The ethics item has been repeatedly continuted to future meetings for lack of time.

On Tuesday night, the council finished all agenda items, including the ethics issue, by 10:18 p.m.

Dr. Rick Kirschner recently began five months of communications training with council members and the mayor to improve cooperation and efficiency. The $37,000 cost of the sessions has provoked widespread criticism.

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