Troy City Council Considering Ethics Ordinance
(Lara Mossa, Feb. 24, 2020)
TROY – The topic of ethics will be broached at Monday’s City Council meeting. Mayor Ethan Baker intends to ask the city attorney and city manager to research the possibility of an ethics ordinance.
“I made it kind of a cornerstone of the campaign to have increased transparency and a better ethics policy to help rebuild trust in our community,” said Baker, who has been on the council for four years and was elected Mayor in November.
Each year, the City Council and Mayor sign a code of ethics, Baker explained, and, in November, the city modified the code to make it stricter. If a council member suspects a violation of the code of ethics by another member, it can be forward to the City Council for action, the code reads. The accused will have the opportunity to respond, and if there is a violation, the City Council may censure the offending member or take any other action that is allowed under the law, including but not limited to a request for a criminal misconduct investigation.
“It added a little bit more teeth to the document and a little bit more stern language but still doesn’t solve the problems that can happen,” Baker said.
Part of the reason for the action is the misconduct of former city manager Brian Kischnick, who was fired in 2018 and sentenced to federal prison in 2019 for soliciting and accepting bribes, Baker said. Following the whistleblower complaint, the city updated its code of ethics in 2016 before making the most recent changes.
“When things started coming to light there, council amended its code of ethics to include ICMA (International City/County Management Association) code of ethics and that was attached to our ethics policy now,” Baker said.
Currently, the only consequences for misconduct are through a recall or by the ballot box when council members run for re-election, Baker added. With the consensus of the council, the city manager and city attorney could research guidelines from other communities, the Michigan Municipal League, and the state.
“The current code sets good standards for council’s conduct, but it lacks an effective enforcement mechanism,” said newly elected City Council member Ann Erickson Gault. “We should consider creating an ordinance that provides consequences for violating the ethics code.”
If the City Council decides to pursue an ordinance, the matter would have to be posted and given a public hearing. If it requires a policy update or change to the City Council rules, the council could move forward with a majority vote.
“We want to make sure there is sufficient due process to investigate any potential ethical violation,” Baker said, adding that, “I think we are very fortunate to have a City Council right now which is all in lock step to work toward increased ethical guidelines. We seem to all be on the same page at this point, which is a very good thing for our community.”
In recent years, the city has made some changes in transparency already such as listing the city’s checkbook in real time on the city website. In addition, the city could consider posting hearings for a wider audience including the city’s social media pages, and there has been some discussion for increasing the disclosure requirements for city council members related to campaign finances, Baker said.
“Although we appear to be moving forward into a new era of transparency and accountability, we should put mechanisms in place to ensure that we can address and eliminate any future corrupt or unethical conduct,” Gault said.
Monday’s meeting is not to vote on an ordinance, simply to instruct staff to research it.
The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall at 500 W. Big Beaver Road in Troy. For more information or to see the code of ethics, go to the website https://troymi.gov.