1- Do you favor tightening up on conflict of interest by putting strong and definitive wording into the charter?
2- Do you favor amending the recall provisions to make it easier for citizens to oust council members?
I requested those declining to answer to at least acknowledge receiving the email.
Those are very important questions in my mind. In terms of tossing out a mayor or other council member, click and enlarge and read this charter blurb, current recall text, and ask yourself, how could I ever cull out a bad apple.
That's from Ch.5, p.13, of the Ramsey Charter. Read it and weep, you have no real right to cull. It's been written into impossibility, via godawfully phrased garbage-wording.
The situation is worse regarding conflict of interest. The charter is dead silent on the issue, and it happened with the Kurak Town Center land promotion, the Bauer Gun Club conversion effort, and now with the McGlone-Flaherty situation, this making the question of Charter reform very, very timely.
I urge every serious citizen-voter to read this entire AGO, excerpted below, (with "AGO" meaning Attorney General Opinion). An AGO is the gold standard of outside advisory opinions a town attorney can procure and far more reliable a thing than asking an opinion of someone at a busy advocacy group such as LMC, or a chum at some other law firm. Resort to outside opinions are helpful and arguably absolutely necessary "due diligence" steps, for a town counsel to supplement his/her own duly diligent and aptly thorough inquiry into all relevant facts - the full panoply of circumstantial evidence that often includes decisive detail that only skill and diligence can uncover - along with comparably diligent town lawyer research into applicable law. A first year law school aphorism I recall, at the start of research ask if a statute exists and then find out what it says as your very first step.
But that is only a start, not an end by itself.
Interestingly, this one seems to have fallen between the cracks, thus underscoring our town's own separate but immediate need to be the frontrunner in spelling out Charter language protecting town citizen taxpayers from conflict situations we might not even know of, or which may be brought to public scrutiny only by serendipity, where that which is undisclosed or inadequately so nonetheless becomes public knowledge. And when serendipity is all you can rely on, gaining keystone facts in whole or in part can be like pulling hen's teeth because the conflicted official likely will be silent and unwilling to put a full and timely written disclosure statement, as a minimum, into ah appropriate set of official meeting minutes.
In the case of this AGO that "appropriate set of official meeting minutes" were for an HRA, i.e., a Housing and Redevelopment Authority, such as Ramsey's (which Colin McGlone chairs); and the opinion as authored back in 1994 is on the web and easily found at the Attorney General's website:
Under Minn. Stat. § 469.003 (1992), each city in this state may establish a Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA). A Housing and Redevelopment Authority is composed of five commissioners appointed by the mayor with the approval of the governing body of the city. [...] One of the current Farmington HRA commissioners is the owner and operator of a cabinet manufacturing business. This commissioner has stated his intent to bid on cabinet work for the developments which are the subject of Farmington HRA contracts for approved projects. [... You ask whether there is a conflict of interest prohibition ...]
[...N]otice and non-participation provisions are now contained in Minn. Stat. § 469.009 (1992). That section provides inter alia that a potential conflict of interest is present when:
...the commissioner knows or has reason to know that the organization with which the commissioner is affiliated is or is reasonably likely to become a participant in a project or development which will be affected by the action or decision.
The statute requires a commissioner who has a potential conflict of interest to disclose that potential conflict to the commissioners of the Authority in writing no later than one week after the commissioner becomes aware of the potential conflict. That commissioner is further prohibited from attempting to influence any employee in any matter related to the action or decision in question, cannot take part in the action or decision, and shall not be counted toward a quorum during the portion of any meeting of the Authority in which the action or decision is to be considered.
[... W]e conclude that a commissioner may enter contracts in his or her private capacity upon HRA projects, if the notice and non-participation requirements of Section 469.009 are met. In that regard, while the commissioner's business will not be one of the developers whose projects will be directly approved by the HRA, it is possible that the commissioner could end up participating in the project through the bidding process conducted by the developer. The statute not only prohibits a commissioner from participating in decisions where the commissioner's later participation is certain, but also prohibits participation in decision making when the likelihood is indirect. Therefore, in our view, the commissioner should follow the disclosure and non-participation provisions set forth in Minn. Stat. § 469.009 whenever the commissioner intends to bid on work to be performed in a development project. If the commissioner were to contemplate bidding on work connected with a large portion of the HRA's projects, he would then be precluded from participating officially as a commissioner in connection with those projects. In such circumstances, the commissioner would be, in large part, ineffectual as a member of the HRA. Therefore, if the commissioner proposes to bid for work on a significant portion of the HRA-approved projects, he should consider resigning from his official position.
The problem you present is just one indication of the need for legislative clarification of the rules governing "conflicts of interest" in general and in government contracting in particular. The absolute criminal prohibition of Minn. Stat. § 471.87 against any public officer having any personal financial interest in, or gaining personal financial benefit however slight from, contracts, even as modified by the ad hoc series of exceptions contained in Section 471.88, stands in contrast to other statutory provisions, [...] which discuss the common rule of disqualification of public officials from participating in certain non-contract actions wherein they have a personal interest.
There is no question that opportunity, or even the public perception of opportunity, for self-dealing by public officials must be carefully avoided. However, it is submitted that not every "personal financial interest" is of sufficient magnitude to support an absolute criminal prohibition against a public officer holding or continuing to hold office if a proposed "contract" affecting that interest may arise. Furthermore, in light of the severe consequences imposed for violation of the prohibitions of Sections 471.87 and 469.009, subd. 3, we believe that public officials are entitled to clearer directions concerning when, and how, their personal interests may permissibly intersect with those of a government agency with which they serve.
And there you have it. In 1994 it was recognized that clear standards protective of citizens from "self dealing" which also give notice to potential transgressors of there being a clear line drawn and where it is, were needed. And the legislature has been dilatory to the point that we luckily have a Charter as a charter city, and can write our own rules and not make them the least common denominator; avoidance of declared criminal conduct, and instead make our standards higher as a beacon for others to see and follow.
Our town's had enough. Our town has a means to improve and reform. The Charter.
Specifics are always helpful. Criminalization of nondisclosure, including token vs full disclosure, up front in writing and put into the minutes as part of the minutes is great as a protection; if enforced and not ignored with a "So sue me" attitude.
Next, you are pushing your own land deal, your father-in-law's, or your cash flow after critical single vote margins where but for the votes there'd be no pot of goal because the rainbow would have had a different end. Any of that. Get off the council. Get off the EDA. The HRA. The Planning Commission. If you are a privateer, go wholly private.
That's my sense of how to do things right. Others may differ. But what we've seen, and how some officials can repeatedly turn a blind eye and a cauterized nose to what's there to sense, is something that's overdue for a fix.