Columbus nixes plan for separate ethics code

May 12, 2010 10:51:00 AM

Kristin Mamrack -

 

Columbus leaders have backed off plans to implement an ethics code for elected officials, deciding state law already governs ethics in office. 

 

Following a physical altercation, at City Hall, between Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box April 6 submitted a proposed code of ethics for consideration. 

 

Box''s code was submitted as a voluntary measure for elected officials and city boards, Box said, noting his submission contained provisions for board members and elected officials to treat their fellow board members and office holders with respect. 

 

"The whole thing was about civility and dignity," Box said. 

 

But City Attorney Jeff Turnage Tuesday informed the council the substance of Box''s code of ethics is contained in code already adopted by the state and municipality. 

 

"The state already has code sections on the Ethics in Government law," Turnage said Friday. "The Ethics in Government laws are very comprehensive in scope and there are hundreds of opinions from the Ethics Commission and the courts." 

 

For example, state nepotism law prohibits the hiring, in a broad range of jobs, of a person "within the third degree of kinship of the official," and statutory procedures exist stipulating how an elected official may be removed from office, he noted. 

 

"The proposed ethics code presented to me for review and comment came from a town out in California," he said of Box''s proposed code. "The proposed code had some very similar provisions to our state ethics code, but the language was not quite the same. So, based upon the fact that we already had comprehensive state code provisions on much of what was in the proposed code, I didn''t feel the city needed to enact something else which may have caused confusion." 

 

Box Tuesday said he''s satisfied with Turnage''s recommendation to stick with the state''s stronger existing codes and noted he does not plan to submit any further codes of ethics for consideration. 

 

Modeled after a section of the state Constitution prohibiting public officials from having material financial interests in contracts with levels of government on which the officials serve, the Ethics in Government law, passed by the state Legislature, is comprehensive. 

 

Provisions for removal of office include stipulations the office of any public officer convicted of a felony shall be declared vacant and if any public officer is found guilty of a felony or crime punishable by a year or more of imprisonment the state attorney general shall "promptly enter a motion for removal from office" of the official. 

 

County officials can only be removed by the governor, but first the governor must receive a petition, signed by no less than 30 percent of the qualified electors of the county, and containing a general statement of the grounds upon which removal is demanded. 

 

Petitions for the removal of county supervisors, justice court judges and constables must be signed by at least 51 percent of the qualified electors of the beat or district from which the offending officer originally was elected. 

 

The state nepotism statute prohibits the hiring of "any person related by blood or marriage within the third degree" to an elected or appointed official, in five different job types -- officer, clerk, stenographer, deputy and assistant. 

 

But the statute does contain a grandfather clause, allowing for relatives hired before the related official took office, or was appointed, to remain. 

 

The Ethics in Government nepotism statute prohibits the hiring of dependent family members -- spouses, children or parents -- in any position and does not include a grandfather provision.