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Wednesday, May 22,2013

Disclosing pay

Two City Council members' non-disclosure of financial interests suggests a weak ethics ordinance

by Andy Balaskovitz
Lansing City Council President Carol Wood earned at least $4,700 as a consultant to political campaigns in 2012, yet she didn’t have to report any information on it under the city’s ethics ordinance.

Moreover, City Councilman Derrick Quinney did not report any outside income for 2010 and 2011 — a violation of that ordinance because he’s worked full time for the Michigan AFL-CIO for over a decade.

Yet the city’s Board of Ethics has not requested further information on Quinney’s and Wood’s statements of financial disclosure because no one has approached the board with a complaint. Still, that board reviews the annual statements required under ordinance to see if any further information is needed.

A review of City Council membersī annual statements of financial disclosure from the past three years shows a policy that is weak on reporting requirements, particularly for part-time elected officials who have outside jobs. In the case of Wood, she is being paid directly by campaigns of elected officials. For 2012, Wood reported that she had no clients that year, even though her business was paid by the campaigns of Circuit Judge James Jamo and 68th House District Democratic candidate Griffin Rivers.

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said the 17-year-old ethics ordinance does not specifically require additional details about Council members’ income and therefore he doesn’t believe Wood is in violation. But while the ordinance doesn’t require it, the official “statement of financial interests” document asks respondents to answer 12 follow-up questions in an attachment. Those questions include: “What are thing you actually do in the business?” “Who are your clients and who receives your goods or services?” “How and where are your services performed?” “Does your business or employer contract with the City?”

When asked if he thinks the ordinance lacks teeth, Swope, whose office turns the disclosures over to the ethics board once filed, said: “It’s tough because if there were a finding, I think it would become pretty public if there was a finding of wrongdoing or conflict. The public is really the judge of elected officials.

“It’s clearly something that when there’s a real problem I think there’s the ability to do an investigation and bring things to light. But I guess I can see your point.”

Interviews with three Board of Ethics members suggest that the board only looks into issues if a complaint is brought forward. 

Since a formal complaint has not been filed against Wood, Swope said he will simply follow up with her and request the information. The Board of Ethics has “options,” Swope said, if it finds any wrongdoing, which could include referring it to the City Attorney’s Office for potential criminal prosecution or by issuing reports.

Board member Douglas Meeks, an attorney in private practice who was appointed by the mayor in fall 2011, said the board would review an ethics complaint if it was filed. “We don’t personally investigate it as a body. We only investigate once it was brought to us.”

Meeks did not recall any issues with Quinney’s or Wood’s statements. “If something was missing, if we had knowledge of it, we would make a request, send it back to them and request it be completed appropriately then we would re-review it.”

Board member Penny Gardner also could not recall any issues with those two statements. “It seems like we go through those things ad nauseum. If something was missing, the chair would send it back and table it until we got important documents. Whether those were received and recorded I can’t be clear on.”

Board member Keith Kris also was unaware of any issues with those members’ documents.

The Rev. John Folkers, chairman of the ethics board, declined to comment for this story and referred questions to Swope.

On May 8, 2012, the board reviewed 17 statements of disclosure during a 31-minute meeting that also included other agenda items, meeting minutes show. It apparently overlooked Quinney’s “N/A” response to questions about outside employment and did not request more details about Wood’s CEW Consultant business. Quinney reported “N/A” for the calendar years 2010 and 2011, but listed the AFL-CIO as his employer for 2012.

Wood did not provide details about her income from CEW Consultant in 2011, even though she provided some in 2010 and 2012. In her most recent disclosure, which is due annually by May 1, Wood said she had “none this year” when asked about clients in 2012, even though she made at least $4,700 in income from Jamo and Rivers.

Swope said her lack of reporting is not a violation because even though the form asks for details, the ordinance does not require it.

All other Council members appear to be in compliance.

The reports do not require Council members to disclose how much income they make, but it does require disclosure of the source of any income over $2,500 in the past calendar year if its from an “organization or entity.” Wood claims her consulting business as a “business interest and supplemental employment,” which includes owners of a business entity, and there is no income threshold with that. The form simply asks for the name, address and type of business. If there is one listed, the form asks Council members to complete an attached document that asks 12 more specific questions about the nature of the job. 

City Council members are paid $20,200 a year for the part-time job. The president receives an additional $2,000 a year and the vice president an extra $750.

The citizen’s advisory ethics board only investigates complaints that are brought to it, even though it reviews the disclosure statements annually. Both Wood and Quinney were unaware of any issues, they said, because they were not notified of any wrongdoing.

“Nothing came back to me saying it was incomplete,” Wood said recently. “They didn’t tell me they were missing anything.” Wood did not provide the details over the past few weeks when asked if she had them from 2011, saying she was preoccupied with the budget process. 

At first, Quinney said Monday he thought he was in compliance and wasn’t required to disclose the information based on “what I was instructed by the city clerk.” Then he changed course, saying that the City Clerk’s Office “did mention it. It was an error on my part that I didn’t report it.”

Quinney is the health and safety director for the Michigan AFL-CIO. Wood claims income from CEW Consultant, activities for which she describes as “consulting” when asked on a form, “What are the things you actually do in the business?”  In 2010 and 2012, when the form asks, “Who are your clients and who receives your goods or services?” Wood says: “None this year.”

But Wood had clients in the past calendar year. Campaign finance reports for 2012 show that Jamo and Rivers paid a combined $4,700 to CEW Consultant. Rivers spent $3,000 between January and June 2012, while Jamo spent $1,700 between May and November 2012. 

Swope said Tuesday that the Board of Ethics has asked him to follow up with Wood to “answer the (income) question on her most recent filing in a different manner. I have not had the opportunity to do that. I will be following up with her and asking her to provide an answer.”

The “statement of financial interests” is required annually for all elected and appointed officers in the city and the Lansing Board of Water and Light. It also shows when Council members receive gifts of more than $500, such as tickets to Common Ground and Lugnuts games. Appointed members to other city boards, commissions or agencies are not required to complete it. Once its filed with the Clerk’s Office, “It is then the Board of Ethics’ duty and responsibility to review the disclosed information for compliance with the ethics provisions of the Charter and ordinances,” according to a letter attached to the document.

“Eye candy of the Week,” our weekly look at some of the nicer properties in Lansing, will return next week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail eye@lansingcitypulse.com or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.

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