Saturday, June 20, 2009
Nepotism and Other Laws Explained by Ethics Lawyer
At a recent seminar in Fairhope, Ken Smith, council for the Alabama League of Municipalities, explained that the so-called state "Nepotism" (friends/relatives of politicians/managers working as city employees) law--Al. Code;Sec 41-1-5--does not apply to municipalities like Fairhope; but the City Council can pass similar ordinances if it so desires. He also said the State Ethics Commission is now encouraging all city employees to report legitimate ethics violations to the Commission for investigation; but warned that "frivolous" complaints may be a violation of state law as well, subject to punishment (false reporting). When reporting ethics violations "in good faith" however, state law provides protection from retribution/punishment by superiors, he added. Smith went on to explain conflict of interest laws (statements of economic interests must be filed with Ethics Commission for public access); "revolving door" provisions; "quid pro quo" prohibitions; special restrictions on a business owner/Councilmember; campaign donation restrictions; gifts; et al. (Any employee making more than $50K /yr is required to file a "conflict of interest" statement according to Smith) The Current State Ethics law was enacted in 1975, over then Gov. George Wallace's veto according to Smith; and current Gov. Riley is seeking to amend/update it. [Some residents have alleged Fairhope has long been run somewhat clandestinely by what they call the "Nix machine" (referring to former 30 + year Mayor James Nix); and that the remaining "Machine" is currently being operated by close Nix allies--Mayor Tim Kant and longtime Councilman Ford. They cite the Mayor's attempted boat buy--which allegedly may have involved close relatives-- earlier this year as further evidence] "It's best to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," was Smith's bottom line advice for all those present. Penalties for Ethics Law violations can extend up to 20 years in prison. For additional information or to file a complaint go to the Ethics Commission Website.