I had a chance to talk with Stacey Fulhorst the other day and we talked about this post I wrote about conflicts of interest on city boards and commissions.
Remember, the post was about why, if one person on a board has a conflict of interest with a potential contractor, the whole board is prohibited from working out a deal with that firm — even if the conflicted person totally checks out of the process. It was the basis for this legal opinion from the city attorney.
But Fulhorst made a good point. Yes, if one member of a board has a conflict the board itself can’t sign a contract with the firm that that board member has an interest in. But that’s for actual contracts.
If it’s about an issue — like zoning, or regulations or some other decision not involving a contract — it’s different.
Let’s say, a City Councilman feels like he is overly interested in the formation of a redevelopment district around his own, and his family’s, property? Is his conflict infectious? Does it somehow sully the entire City Council and bar them from forming the district in the same way Chip Owen’s conflict has apparently ruined his partners’ deal?
No. If the councilman recuses himself from the process, the rest of the City Council can work on the project.
I suppose the theory is that if a member of the board is financially interested in a contract that board is going to sign, he just sullies the entire board because it’s a very direct link. And the board or commission he serves on can always just choose someone else to give the contract to — someone who isn’t associated with a member of the body.
But it’s different when it’s not a contract. His board may be the only board that can deal with a land-use code issue, or regulation, so you couldn’t rightly prohibit the entire board from dealing with the firm in which he is financially interested because, well, that wouldn’t be in the public’s interest.