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Wednesday, August 14,2013

Income, ethics and Wood

by Andy Balaskovitz
Lansing City Council President Carol Wood has revealed more about her sources of consulting income, which include major local institutions.

She has been paid by Lansing Community College, Ingham Regional Medical Center and the Kellogg Foundation, Wood said in an interview Monday.

LCC has had business before the Council in recent years wrangling over downtown property.

The new information follows a report by City Pulse in May on payments totaling $4,700 that her firm, CEW Consulting, received in 2012 from the political campaigns of Ingham County Circuit Judge James Jamo and 68th state House District candidate Griffin Rivers.

No details of payments appeared on the annual financial disclosure form that she and other Council members are required to file. However, after the story appeared, she filed an amended form that disclosed the Jamo and Rivers’ campaign payments, even though she said in a letter to the City Clerk’s Office that said she had found “no authority in the applicable ordinance” saying she had to report the income. 

The City Pulse story led to a complaint being lodged with the Ethics Board, which agreed to hear it. It was filed by B. Michael (Willy) Williams. (The board cleared Wood at a closed-door hearing on Tuesday. See box.)

Williams’ complaint alleged that she was not claiming outside income in addition to the campaigns of Jamo and Rivers. It cites a Dun & Bradsreet Credibility Corp. report that says CEW Consulting’s annual revenue is $64,000 in a “company snapshot,” which Wood said was not accurate. The complaint also requests the city’s Ethics Board to investigate whether Wood uses city resources and equipment for her business. Wood, who is paid $22,200 as Council president, treats her position like a full-time job.

City Council members are required to list sources of outside income, such as a business they own — but not from where such businesses derive their income. Wood chose not to disclose her clients in at least the past three annual statements of financial interests. 

In addition to LCC and Jamo’s and River’s campaigns, Wood said she has also done consulting work for Ingham Regional Medical Center and the Kellogg Foundation. For LCC, Wood helped work on a dental program to “come up with ways the uninsured and under-insured had access to dental health.” Much of the other work she cited included “community involvement,” trying to connect the companies with the public so “if issues came forward, the community had access to them and could vocalize what those concerns were.”

Wood was uncertain on Monday when those contracts ended. “I know I stopped doing contracts about the time I ran for mayor (in 2009) simply because I didn’t want to have an issue out there as we were seeking donations for the campaign.”

But still, why not disclose income sources, particularly from Jamo’s and Rivers’ campaigns? “It’s not a requirement of the ethics ordinance,” she said.

Do you think it should be required? “I have mixed feelings about that,” Wood said. While it might be best to err on the side of openness, she cited potential “attorney-client” privilege issues, such as Councilman Brian Jeffries’ work as an attorney. Wood also finds it “amusing that everyone’s looking so intently at this one but you turn around and have Council member Dunbar that does fundraising for (South Lansing Community Development Association) and I’m not aware of anyone out there asking if they’re doing business with the city.”

In 2013, Dunbar, who is executive director of the association, listed “community members” as her clients. The association contracts with the city’s Human Relations and Community Services Department, but she recuses herself from voting on that department’s budget each year.

On Tuesday, Dunbar said that her salary in particular is made up of registration fees from the Hawk Island Triathlon and grants. Donations to the association go toward various programs. “It’s not financially benefitting me,” Dunbar said. “They’d be programs we wouldn’t do if we don’t have the money.”

Penny Gardner, vice chairwoman of the Ethics Board, did not speak directly about Wood’s case on Monday. She said the board has discussed updating the entire ethics policy. “Maybe (financial disclosure) needs to be updated as well.”

Cities in Michigan vary when it comes to disclosure policies.

East Lansing has tough requirements when it comes to disclosing with whom elected officials meet. For example, according to a city website, East Lansing City Councilwoman Kathleen Boyle met privately on July 2 with the president of Caddis Development, Kevin McGraw, to discuss Trowbridge Plaza on the city’s southwest side. Boyle and McGraw met from 9 to 11 a.m. at 2300 Jolly Oak Road in Okemos. Caddis, a Lansing-based company, has development interests in East Lansing, particularly the southwest corner of Lake Lansing and Coolidge roads.

The details were posted at cityofeastlansing.com/MeetingDisclosure, along with several other meetings between Council members, developers and business owners going back to April 2012.

Such meetings are required disclosure since the Council adopted a transparency ordinance on April 3, 2012 “committed to conducting their affairs in an ethical, open and transparent manner.” 

East Lansing’s ordinance is an example of a municipality that has codified transparency rules. East Lansing also has an ordinance requiring all East Lansing employees — elected or non-elected, full time or part time — to annually disclose financial interests with any entity “of any kind” doing business with or being licensed or regulated by the city.

But even with the private meetings policy, East Lansing, like Lansing, does not require its elected officials to list detailed information about where outside income comes from, said East Lansing City Clerk Marie McKenna-Wicks. 

Still, it appears Lansing and East Lansing do more than others. In Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, there are no ethics ordinances requiring elected officials’ annual disclosure of outside income. And while the state issued a “model ethics ordinance” in September 2009 under former Attorney General Mike Cox to guide municipalities, the state is no model of transparency, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“MI is one of three states (others being NH and ID) that has no requirement of personal financial disclosure by officeholders,” he wrote in an email. “Whatever the Lansing ordinance is, you can’t say that it’s worse than the state.”

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