To the Editor:
On April 14, the Ad Hoc Code of Conduct Review Committee presented its Code of Conduct and Ethics Pledge recommendations to the Alexandria City Council. However, the Ad Hoc Code of Conduct Review Committee held no public hearing, thereby bypassing the citizens and showing a lack of transparency in the process. Although these appointed members may or may not be experts in the field of ethics, this demonstrates a clear lack of respect for the citizens.
This latest snub is symptomatic of a cynical mindset at City Hall, where certain groups have been demonized and ridiculed. If the former planning director can make fun of developers in a recent letter to the Washington Post, what must City Hall think of its citizens, since developers are the lifeblood of City Hall, and are considered its most important constituents?
Moreover, there are ethics practices that need revision. First, regarding the Code of Conduct, when a project comes before City Council for approval, City Council members need not disclose an interest in a development if it is under 10 percent, although there was a suggestion to lower it to 3 percent. The ethical bottom line is that if a member of City Council owns any part of a development project, even if it is only one tenth of one percent, they should declare this interest.
Next, although the Ad Hoc Committee has specified that the Mayor, Council, City Manager, City Attorney, City Clerk and those citizens sitting on boards and commissions be required to take the ethics pledge, the city staff is not required to do so. However, they prepare staff reports that are used by all of the aforementioned individuals, thus having a great deal of influence over the eventual decisions that will ultimately be made, and should also be required to take the ethics pledge.
Since the Ad Hoc Committee has failed to establish an Ethics Commission or create an ombudsman, there is no oversight of ethics violations that do not require legal adjudication but do merit some sort of compliance standard. Some sort of moral compass is needed to ensure that any fraud, waste and abuse violations are adequately addressed, but can ensure that ethic complaints are resolved to the satisfaction of the entire citizenry.
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet