City Council approves new appointees to Board of Ethics


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) speaks at a City Council meeting. Fiske on Monday objected to the appointment of new members to the Board of Ethics citing a potential appearance of a conflict.

David Fishman, City Editor

City Council appointed two new members to the Board of Ethics and reappointed another Monday night, rounding out a contentious election season that saw numerous ethics claims from various candidates.

The two new members — Rotary Foundation employee Karena Bierman and Coast Guard law enforcement specialist Vincent Thomas, Jr. — were appointed despite objections from Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) and Ald. Brian Miller (9th). Kelda Harris-Harty, also opposed by the two aldermen, was reappointed to serve a second term on the board. The board is scheduled to meet April 18 to hear a number of leftover cases from the municipal elections.

The decision to appoint new members came after the Board of Ethics failed to reach a quorum last month, rendering it unable to rule on outstanding ethics issues concerning the recent election cycle. The normally five-member board is tasked with making findings of fact and issuing advisory opinions to City Council on “questions of possible unethical conduct or conflict of interest.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who is responsible for appointing members to the board, said at Monday’s meeting that it was “traditional” to reappoint members. Tisdahl has not appointed anyone new to the board in recent years.

But Fiske said because the mayor was named in one of the board’s pending ethics cases, she should not be involved in appointing — or reappointing — members to avoid the appearance of a conflict. Fiske said she’d heard concerns from constituents about issues of transparency around the way city officials make decisions.

Instead, Fiske suggested waiting until the new City Council takes over May 8.

“This is just not the right thing to do; it’s better for you to wait until the next council,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s going to hurt anyone and I think it says to the community that we care about the appearance of conflicts.”

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), however, said she felt “very hurt” after having been named three times in unresolved ethics cases. Holmes, who will retire from her position next month, has served on the council for roughly 12 years.

“I’m doing this, number one, from a very selfish and personal level,” Holmes said. “I do not want to leave office with this craziness hanging over me.”

Holmes said she attended an ethics board meeting March 21, only to be turned away because the group lacked a quorum. She added that the current council has an obligation to fulfill its duties.

After the meeting, Fiske told The Daily she wanted to avoid any semblance of a conflict. She added that officials should be “very careful” not to betray the public’s trust.

“A lot of codes of ethics are based on public perception, and if the public perceives you as being biased in any way that’s not a good thing,” Fiske told The Daily. “In a community this size, you’ve got to make sure that people trust … that you’re going to be making an impartial and informed decision.”

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