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Friday, March 9, 2007 | The Ethics Commission fined City Councilman Tony Young $10,000 Thursday for failing to settle debts owed to campaign staffers, the largest penalty ever to be handed down by the panel to a sitting city official.
According to the commission’s settlement, Young owed $30,000 in “win” bonuses promised to two campaign workers in the 2005 election to replace the late Councilman Charles Lewis. The commission said Young did not finish paying the campaign debts until June 2006, far past the 90-day grace period the city’s former elections code allowed (the city has since extended the grace period to 180 days).
Further, Young, whose District 4 encompasses the city’s southeastern neighborhoods, sought donations from political contributors to pay the debts for about 18 months past the January 2005 election, the commission said. The councilman did not return calls seeking comment Thursday evening after the commission released its settlement.
Stacy Fulhorst, the Ethics Commission’s executive director, said the law was crafted to guard against potential misconduct that could result from elected officials soliciting money from donors — many of whom could have business pending before the city — to retire their debts while holding office.
“When they’re giving contributions months and years after the election, it creates an appearance that they’re trying to curry the favor of an elected official rather than advance their candidacy,” Fulhorst said.
Young is not the first city official to be found violating this law by the commission. Former Councilman Byron Wear was fined $2,000 by the panel in 2002 for failing to pay back a campaign vendor within the allotted time after his mayoral run in 2000.
The law allows leeway after an election because win bonuses can often be a difficult expense for a candidate’s campaign to shoulder, despite their contingency. Fulhorst said the council recognized that dynamic when it doubled the length of the grace period, effective later that year.
“One of the reasons why the City Council ultimately extended it from 90 to 180 days is to help pay win bonuses,” Fulhorst said. “But you can see that Councilman Young’s debt still remained for far more than 180 days.”
Young’s debt lingered for nearly a year and a half past the election. He owed campaign staffers April Goldstein and Myrtle Cole win bonuses of $20,000 and $10,000, respectively, the commission stated. The settlement states that Cole’s debt was not squared until Feb. 16, 2006, about 10 months after the city’s deadline, and Goldstein was not paid in full until June 30, 2006, 15 months late. Neither Goldstein nor Cole were fined for the incidents.
Young, who serves as the council president pro tem, also acknowledged that he broke election laws by allowing someone other than him or his campaign treasurer to sign checks on behalf of the campaign, according to the commission. In addition, several pieces of mail from Young’s campaign also did not include the proper “paid for by” disclosures that informs the public who paid for the advertisements.
Fulhorst said Young’s fine was more severe because all candidates in the District 4 race were notified by the Ethics Commission about the 90-day deadline in November 2004.
However, the commission also took into consideration the tricky circumstances of running in a short-notice special election that was prompted by Lewis’ death the August before, Fulhorst said. Also, Young was granted leniency because he was a novice candidate at the time, she said.
Young won the January 2005 election over former Councilman George Stevens with 59 percent of the vote to Stevens’ 41 percent. Last June, Young successfully won reelection in the primary contest.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story that Byron Wear was fined $5,000 in 2002. In fact, he was fined $2,000. We regret the error.)