Monday, August 23, 2010

Disorderly Conduct In Richardson

The City Council of Richardson is considering adoption of a Code of Conduct. (A draft ordinance can be read here. My earlier blog on the topic can be read here.) Initial public response to the proposed ordinance has been muted. A public hearing is scheduled for September 13. Before then, the public can bring their concerns to the attention of the council during visitors section of regular city council meetings.

After the jump, some disorderly areas of the Code of Conduct that I think the council should rethink and clean up.

Given that establishing a Code of Conduct is a response to public interest in more open and transparent government, it seems counter-productive that the Code of Conduct makes it harder for city officials to keep the public informed about the public's business when the public has a right to know.

"Sec. 2-4. No officer of the city of a relative thereof shall: ... (g) Disclose confidential information."

That may sound innocuous, but the devil is in the details. Confidential information is defined to include *any* information from meetings closed to the public, "regardless whether disclosure violates the Texas Open Meetings Act or Texas Public Information Act." Given that some members of the public (mainly the conspiracy crowd, but still) are already suspicious that executive sessions are being improperly used, the Code of Conduct should not be able to be used as a blanket to cover up even improper conduct. In the worst case, a council member would be violating the Code of Conduct to even file an ethics complaint against another council member based on conduct during an executive session. The complaint would necessarily contain what's by definition confidential information. Instead, the only information that should be protected by the Code of Conduct is information already deemed confidential by law.

The City Council may rightly believe that investigating old history is difficult and inconvenient, but putting a short statute of limitations on offenses is the wrong way to solve the problem.

"Sec. 2-9. A complaint ... shall be filed not later than six (6) months after the complained act(s) occurred."

With any statute of limitations, the value of covering up an offense rises enormously. For serious violations, the statute of limitations ought to be indefinite. In addition, the Code of Conduct ought to make it a violation of the Code of Conduct for any officer to attempt to conceal a violation of the Code of Conduct. These two changes would not only eliminate an incentive to cover up a violation, but impose a penalty for doing so.

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