There exists the continuing conversation regarding the conflict of interest of certain members of the Memorial Health System (MHS) Task Force. Here’s an insight – we don’t have to look very far for the answer to the nagging question of apparent conflict – we merely need to read the Colorado Springs Code of Ethics which says that all city appointees must be bound by the code.
From the code: The City of Colorado Springs Code of Ethics applies to the Mayor, Council Members and all their appointed boards, committees and commissions.
That being said, good questions are:
- Was the Task force properly appointed? Is it a legal entity?
- Do the members fall into the category of appointee?
- If yes, they’re bound by the code
- If no; does the Task Force have legal standing to make any legitimate recommendation
The Mayor, Council and all their appointed boards, committees and commissions should assure that all business is conducted openly to safeguard public confidence in the integrity of the City by avoiding any conduct creating the appearance of impropriety.
- A conflict of interest exists when there is any personal or financial relationship that could influence or be perceived to influence the conduct of business on behalf of the City.
- A conflict of interest exists when any improper and undue influence can be perceived to be exercised concerning a direct action involving the City.
- A conflict of interest exists when there is an appearance of impropriety.
- No conflict of interest is allowed.
- No covered person shall hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty.
- If a direct or indirect substantial financial interest exists, the covered person shall make known that interest to the appropriate persons and shall refrain from participating in the matter as it is dealt with by the City.
- No covered person shall engage in any actions that may create the appearance that they are violating the law or ethical standards.
- No covered persons shall engage in any activity that may create, or does create, the appearance of impropriety.
- Covered persons are elected officials, appointees & volunteers in connection with their work for the City.
- Volunteers folks who contribute their services to the City without compensation.
- Appointees all members of boards, committees and commissions appointed by the Mayor or City Council
These provisions are directly applicable to the issue at hand. 3 members on the Task Force have direct financial and personal ties to MHS.
The 3 Task Force members with financial and personal ties to MHS are all city appointees, covered persons, volunteers and in the case of two of members, work for, or are employees of MHS. They are ethically bound to avoid any conflicts of interest and avoid the appearance of impropriety in connection with their service on the Task Force.
Despite these clear ethical provisions, the 3 members have been allowed to remain on the Task Force. How can any reasonable person have confidence in a public process that allows the judging of the merits of MHS’s proposal, (particularly in relation to other third-party proposals), by persons who are financially and personally entangled with MHS?
This is not to suggest the 3 Task Force Members are not honorable folks or their motives suspect. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether or not participation by these members on the MHS Task Force violates the ethical standards set forth in the City’s code of ethical behavior.
Reading the City’s code of ethics leads to the following:
- The participation of the 3 members with ties to MHS appears to violate the conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety.
- The appointment of the 3 members with ties to MHS could have been avoided in the first place by reading the City’s code of ethics.
- When the issue of conflict of interest arose, the code of ethics should have been consulted and all persons involved informed of the ethical standards pertaining to conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety.
The City Attorney was quoted in The Gazette saying the conflict of interest provisions as a matter of law do not apply to Task Force Members since they are not a decision making board but only an advisory group.
- Is there a law (as suggested by the City Attorney) that makes a distinction in the ethical standards of decision making boards as opposed to advisory boards?
- Do we not hold advisory board members to the same ethical standards as decision making boards? Why would we do otherwise? Does such a law or policy advance public confidence? What law is the City Attorney relying upon in his opinion?
- Is the City Attorney correct in his opinion?
The definitions of “Covered Person” and “Volunteer” as set forth in the City’s ethics code seem to describe each of the 3 Task Force Members whose involvement is being questioned. Coupled with the other provisions of the Code, it seems the code prohibits their participation in the Task Force proceedings as voting Members. (The simple solution is: they should remain on the Task Force but recuse themselves from voting.)
So we can move-on, I encourage the 3 task force members in questions to voluntarily recuse themselves from voting on any recommendation passed to the City Council.