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Proposed ethics law leads to City Council turmoil

Pape called proposal “nonsensical”; Brown says she may rewrite it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 - 11:04 am

The City Council session Tuesday ended in a verbal war over a proposed ethics law that wasn’t even formally introduced for discussion.

Councilwoman Liz Brown, R-at large, withdrew a bill that would limit certain contractors from engaging in business with the city if they have donated to a sitting mayor’s campaign. She said she will modify the bill, which has drawn sharp criticism from some council members, and introduce the new version in two weeks.

As currently written, it would prohibit campaign gifts to the mayor from city contractors while the city is seeking bids for work, as well as between the time a contract is awarded and work begins.

It would also prohibit contributions from the owner of a city contractor, the owner’s spouse and the company’s subcontractors.

Councilman Tim Pape, D-5th, leveled the harshest criticism at the plan Tuesday, calling it “nonsensical” and “patently unfair” even after Brown had withdrawn it.

“I think this is a very poor, one-sided, partisan piece of legislation,” Pape said, noting that the withdrawn bill would not apply to other mayoral candidates, the city clerk or council members.

Brown said she may modify the proposal so it would apply to city officeholders and candidates other than the sitting mayor.

“I’ll have to look at the language and see how we can extend it,” Brown said.

Pape said any such law would be illegal anyway because only the state can make campaign-finance laws.

However, Council President Mitch Harper, R-4th, countered that Brown’s proposal does not deal with campaign finance but rather establishes ethical standards regarding the way city contracts are awarded.

Brown said critics of the proposal are avoiding the real problem – that out-of-state companies that donate “hundreds of thousands” of dollars to mayoral campaigns end up scoring jobs that should go to local contractors.

“At the end of the day, these are the things people don’t like to talk about.”