MOUNT AIRY — Town officials on Monday evening approved ethics rules dictating how elected officials should deal with matters such as financial disclosure and conflict of interest.
In a 3-2 vote, the Mount Airy Town Council adopted an ethics ordinance similar to the state-mandated ethics law, which the town has worked to comply with for three years. Councilmen Peter Helt, Bob King and Ken Phebus voted in favor of the ordinance, while Chris Everich and Scott Strong voted against it.
The ordinance was passed at the urging of Dick Swanson, chairman of the town’s ethics commission. Without a determined town ethics code, the commission would handle an ethics complaint according to town, county or state law since the three vary, he said.
“If town council does not pass an ordinance tonight and should we receive an ethics complaint, the commission will determine which law (to abide by) ... and that decision will stand,” Swanson testified.
Everich told the councilmen he opposed the ethics ordinance because it would discourage residents from running for public office due to the amount of financial disclosure needed.
“Why should you have to sacrifice your privacy to run for office?” he said.
Helt amended the ordinance, however, so that elected officials would not have to disclose as much personal and financial information, allowing elected officials to maintain privacy but facing the risk that the law does not comply with the state ethics law.
Changes to a law allowing residents to request a recall election for elected officials for any reason were struck down by the council in a majority decision.
Everich, who proposed the legislation, said the changes would allow voters to pull an elected official from office for a reason beyond the seven currently listed in the town code.
“As an elected official, it’s not up for me to determine what the citizens want and don’t want us to do,” Everich said.
While the rationale for a recall election must be noted before it can take place, Strong said these changes would allow town voters to recall elected officials on any grounds.
“If they don’t like that you drink Diet Coke, they can recall you right now,” Strong said.
However, a change to the ordinance that would eliminate the Town Council’s major role in the recall election will be determined at next month’s meeting Nov. 3.
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