Keli MacIntosh

MacIntosh

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners continues to evade all ethics accountability.

The Ethics Ad Hoc committee appointed at the beginning of 2019, was twice dissolved without detailing any policy for dealing with the ethical conflicts of elected officials. They did produce a resolution, a list of “Whereas, Whereas” statements — one of which had to be removed because it was false information about a state law. These were followed by a couple “Therefore” statements and another recommendation to dissolve the committee. Again, the resolution did not include a policy that would deal with commissioners potential unethical behaviors.

The Code of Ethics Policy for the county includes requirements that conduct in official affairs should be above reproach. It requires commissioners disclose any conflict of interest and states that even the appearance of improper conduct should be avoided. Mr. Jewett (District 3) commented that it is “not anybody’s business” what his financial involvements are. Mr. Clous (District 5) feels a commissioner can still vote, even if there is a conflict of interest. Mr. Hentschel (chair and District 7) said he doesn’t pay attention to the concerns mentioned at the BOC meetings because no one cares.

As to enforcement, the policy states any employee or appointed official who violates the provisions of the code shall be subject to disciplinary action up to, and including, discharge. Unfortunately, there is no mention of a process for reporting or enforcing any violation by a commissioner or other elected official. Mr. Jewett stated there is no need for a more detailed policy because the commissioners “can monitor ourselves.”

Committee assignments by Chair Rob Henschel (District 7) have raised suspicion. Ms. Coffia (District 1) which houses the Cherry Capital Airport, was blocked for the second year from sitting on the committee deciding whether the airport will change from a Commission to an Authority.

Mr. Clous, part owner of Eastwood Construction, was recently awarded a position on the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, which facilitates redevelopment of contaminated property and the Lank Bank, which acquires property for economic development. He was also appointed to the Building Code Board of Appeals. These assignments should send up red flags for anyone working in construction in the Grand Traverse area.

When community members asked who a commissioner might be accountable to, they were told simply, “the voters.” As things stand now, nothing can be done to limit conflicts of interest until the next election.

If the only way for the community to hold a commissioner accountable is to vote them out of office, community members need to prepare for next November. Be sure to pay attention to what happens over the next year. If you can’t attend the commission meetings at 8 a.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, or your specific township meetings, you can watch the meetings through the websites.

We are past the time when members of a community can assume their elected officials’ prime interest is the benefit of the community.

About the author: Keli MacIntosh, of Traverse City, is a member of the ACLU Smart Justice Campaign and a retired registered nurse.

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