Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Proposed Ethics Bill

Today I introduced a bill that would amend the County’s ex parte law to further define which communications are allowed when a decision must be made on the basis of a hearing record. The bill is co-sponsored by Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner, Valerie Ervin and George Leventhal.

Under the current law, ex parte communications are defined as those made to influence a decision-making official off the record and out of the presence of other parties. The restriction against ex parte communication applies in local map amendments, abandonments, road closings and similar proceedings where a decision must be made on the record. Any communication by telephone, e-mail, letter or face-to-face conversation is prohibited in these instances.

Under my proposed bill, certain aspects of the law would be clarified. The bill would restrict communications to and from a decision-maker’s staff as well as the decision-maker. It would apply the ex parte restrictions to “reasonably foreseeable proceedings,” meaning that an interested party cannot talk to a decision-maker today about a zoning application that may be filed in the next month. Also, it would treat advice from other government agencies, such as the Planning Board, the same as communications from the public.

The ex parte law is designed to maintain the integrity of the process—in other words, to keep politics out of it. This legislation will clear up some questions about conversations with staff and other communications, and ultimately it will help us maintain our long history of transparency and adherence to high ethical standards.

A public hearing on Bill 12-09 is tentatively scheduled for April 28 at 1:30 p.m.

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