Alexandria Letter: City Deserves Ethics Commission

Alexandria Letter: City Deserves Ethics Commission

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

There are several issues that are not addressed that are really at the center of the ethics controversy. Although the City Council unanimously approved its Transparency Resolution on Jan. 30, there are a number of shortcomings in its creation, inception and implementation.

First, the adoption of a resolution on transparency in government without the benefit of transparency in its creation is an oxymoron. The matter was neither docketed nor benefited from public review prior to adoption. This does not meet the transparency sniff test.

Next, the establishment of an Ad Hoc Code of Conduct Review Committee, which consists of nine members acting at the direction of the City Council, leaves much to be desired in the proposed implementation. The manner in which the City Council chose to address this was to create a committee comprised of one representative appointed by each council member (two by the city manager) to review and if deemed necessary, to create the laws governing the committee. “ … What can possibly go wrong with that?” Strike two on a total lack of transparency.

Third, the amendment of 11-406(a) of the city’s Zoning Code to lower the ownership threshold of City Council members from 10 percent to 3 percent raises the question as to why it is not being reduced to 0 percent. Are we trying to cover for someone who has 3 percent ownership? City Council members need to eliminate any perception that they are above the law.

Fourth, the City Council needs to petition the Virginia General Assembly to enact an outright ban of gifts. There is absolutely no reason that City Council members or other elected officials should receive gifts of any kind from those lobbying for their interests.

Lastly, City Council member Tim Lovain’s expressed concern that establishment of a standing ethics commission would be akin to an “Un-Alexandria Activities Committee” is not valid, since a number of worthy U.S. cities (e.g., Annapolis, Boise, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Takoma Park, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Rockville, just to name a few) have well-functioning ethics commissions. The question is really this: why don’t we have an ethics commission?

In the absence of other checks and balances, the creation of an impartial and representative standing ethics commission is of paramount importance, and it should definitely be implemented after an impartial and representative Ad Hoc Committee has been appointed to establish the Code of Conduct ground rules.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet