- Nephi City council members discuss Ethics Act at meeting
By Myrna Trauntvein
City Council members are held to a high standard when it comes to ethics.
Denton Hatch, attorney and advisor to the Nephi City Council, reviewed the Municipal Officers and Employees Ethics Act with council members on Tuesday.
Disclosure statements are very important, said Hatch.
In fact, said Blair Painter, city clerk/recorder, the independent auditor had looked for them as he was performing his duties. Some of the statements were old and that was not good.
"I will be glad to notarize them if you would like to fill out new ones tonight," said Painter.
Anytime a council member has a change in position held in a business, or any time there is a change in the position, salary, ownership or if the value of the officer's interest has increased a new statement needs to be filled out.
"The disclosure must be made in a sworn statement filed with the mayor and the disclosure statement is provided to members of the governing body within 30 days," said Hatch.
Under specifics of the state law, all municipal officers and employees must abide by the Municipal Officers and Employees Ethics Act.
"The use of the office you were elected to for personal benefit is prohibited," said Hatch. "Failure to abide by the Act could result in a second degree felony charge."
He said that it is an offense for an employee or elected official to disclose or improperly use private or protected information to substantially further the officer's economic interest or secure special privileges or exemptions.
"Suppose you own an interest in a business," said Hatch. "Should you fill out a disclosure statement?"
Lisa Brough, council member, said she thought it would be wise.
Hatch said that it was a good thing to always remember to err on the side of caution.
"Basically, you should disclose any conflict of interest where your personal interest is different than that of the city," said Hatch. "It is not, necessarily, a bad thing but you do have to disclose any conflict."
It is an offense for an elected or appointed officer to receive or agree to receive compensation for assisting any person or business entity in any transaction involving the municipality unless the officer files with the mayor a sworn statement disclosing the names of those involved and a brief description of the transaction.
"The information must be disclosed in an open meeting to the members of the council immediately before discussion," Hatch said.
It is also unlawful for the official to use or even attempt to use the position for gain or privileges and to knowingly receive a gift of substantial value that would unduly influence a reasonable person.
The Act sets out a minimum standard of ethics.
Once an appropriate disclosure is made of the conflict of interest, it is presumed that the officer or employee's personal sense of propriety and values along with public scrutiny will guide them to do the right thing.
The purposes of this state law are to establish standards of conduct for municipal officers and employees and to require a disclosure of actual or potential conflicts of interest between public duties and personal interests.
The Act does set up a disclosure system for conflicts of interest; and describes crimes specific to public service.
"The act does not apply to gifts having a value of less than $50, an award publicly presented in recognition of public service, or any bona fide loan made in the ordinary course of business or a political campaign contribution," said Hatch.
Every elected or appointed officer who has a substantial interest in any business which does or anticipates doing business with the city is to disclose to the members of the governing body the nature of the interest.
"It is a Class A misdemeanor for any person to induce or seek to induce any appointed or elected officer of a municipality to violate any of the provisions," said Hatch. "It is also against the law for anyone to induce you," he said.
A fine and/or jail time may be a result of violation of the Ethics Act.
The council member is guilty of a second degree felony if the total value of he compensation conflict of interest or assistance exceeds $1,000 and a felony of the third degree is when the total body of compensation conflict of interest assistance is more than $250 but not more than $1,000.
A Class A misdemeanor exists if the value of compensation or assistance was more than $100 but does not exceed $250 and a Class B misdemeanor can be found if the value of the compensation or assistance was $100 or less.
"In case of a felony of the third degree, prison time shall be for a term not to exceed five years," said Hatch. "For a felony of the second degree, prison time will be for a term not exceeding one year and for no more than 15 years."
A Class A misdemeanor can have a prison term not exceeding a year and a Class B misdemeanor will have a term not exceeding six-months.
"The city may establish by ordinance an Ethics Commission to review a complaint against an officer or employee," said Hatch.
A person filing a complaint would file with the ethics commission or with the Political Subdivisions Ethics Review Commission.
In addition to removing the official from office who has been found guilty of violation, the city may rescind or void any contract or subcontract entered into without returning the consideration received by the city.