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Election first, then conflict issue

October 18, 2002

June Casagrande

A discussion on tightening conflict-of-interest rules for the City

Council won't be heard until after the Nov. 5 election, at the

request of Councilman John Heffernan, who proposed the idea earlier

this month.

"I've asked the city manager to hold off on creating a study

session on this until after the election, instead of at the next

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meeting," Heffernan said, citing three reasons.

Foremost, he said, more time is needed to research the legal

nuances of the plan.

"I think it's probable that it will stand a litigation test,"

Heffernan said. "So we need to do legal research to verify the

language of the ordinance."

Secondly, council consideration of the ordinance could complicate

the upcoming council election, in effect throwing a late curve ball

to candidates in a campaign season already in full swing.

"I think of this as a long-term governance issue," he said. "It's

not about this election."

Third, Heffernan said that the matter should be considered by the

new council.

Heffernan has called for a study session to consider whether an

ordinance similar to one being considered in Los Angeles could make

elected officials' more accountable to residents. The ordinance would

prohibit council members from awarding contracts to or voting on

matters benefiting anyone who has worked on their campaigns or who

has a too-close professional relationship with the council member.

Heffernan's idea came after revelations that the firm of Dave

Ellis was paid about $458,000 out of a city grant for airport

education. Ellis is the campaign manager for incumbents Tod Ridgeway

and Gary Adams, as well as for candidates Don Webb and Bernie

Svalstad.

The deal does not appear to violate any existing

conflict-of-interest rules, which require a council member to abstain

from voting on any council business that would profit that council

member. Under Heffernan's proposed ordinance, relationships that work

the other way, such as that of a paid campaign consultant, would also

be restricted.

The ordinance would likely face strong opposition with the current

council. Heffernan is the sole Greenlight council member, and is

often in disagreement with the other council members.

Candidate Rick Taylor, who is endorsed by the Greenlight

Committee, said he thinks such an ordinance would be a good idea.

"It could definitely help put the decision making back into the

hands of the people," Taylor said.

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