Ethics Board Lacked Quorum for Alderperson’s June Hearing

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The term of one of the members of the Evanston Board of Ethics expired just prior to the June 19 hearing concerning an alderperson’s receipt and participation of the City’s grant funding to her employer.

See Evanston Live TV hearing coverage Complainant’s statement begins at 3 minutes :35 seconds / Respondent’s statement begins at 23 minutes and 35 seconds

Kelda Harris-Harty, who served as Chair, ended her second term on June 11, 2018. The City limits Ethics Board members to two terms. The two remaining members left the Board one short to establish a quorum and hold the meeting. The Board dismissed the case, citing as precedent a 2017 ruling in regard the same alderperson, who then served as an appointed officer, presenting and advocating for her employer’s grant funding from the City.

Karina Bierman, who read the Board’s June 19 findings, cited that in the 2017 case, the Board that had ruled that the officer’s presentation to the Economic Development Committee gave the appearance of impropriety and a personal benefit could be inferred and potential conflict of interest, but that the Board had found, in great part the insistence of the other alderpeople, just because an appearance of impropriety could be inferred, does not in and of itself make a violation of the Ethics Code.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Board is currently under investigation by the Attorney General for potential violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act during its preliminary hearing, held March 20, including if the Board made its determinations in closed session, if it misrepresented the nature of the matter under consideration, and if it allowed public comment at the meeting.

Following the Board’s reading of its decision at the June hearing, the public questioned the Board for again making its decisions in closed session, and for not holding public comment until the Board’s decisions had already been determined. The Board then voted to uphold its read findings.

Below are the 9 allegations cited in the Complaint.

1-10-4. – CODE OF ETHICS

(B) Persons Covered By This Chapter. The provisions of this Chapter shall apply to any officer or employee of the City, whether elected or appointed, paid or unpaid, including members of boards and commissions appointed by the City Mayor or City Council.

  1. Conflict Of Interest—b. Prohibited The use of public office for private gain is strictly prohibited. Given the importance of independent judgment and impartiality to the proper functioning of City government, these rules are to be construed liberally to ensure that public officials and employees act with the utmost care and take all necessary steps to avoid actual conflicts of interest that would interfere with their ability to perform their official duties independently and impartially, as well as conduct that would to a reasonable person appear to create such conflicts of interestThe following is a list of prohibited conflicts:

(2) Abuse Of Power Of Office. No officer or employee shall, use the prestige, power or influence of his/her office or employment to engage in any transaction which is, or would to a reasonable person appear to be, in conflict or incompatible with the proper discharge of his/her official duties, or which impairs, or would to a reasonable person appear to impair, the officer’s independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties. This prohibition shall extend to any use of official position or employment for a purpose that is or would appear to a reasonable person to be for the private benefit of the officer, employee or any member of their family, rather than primarily for the benefit of the City.

(4) Acquisition Of Interest. No public officer shall receive or accept any financial interest in any sale to the City of any service or property.

(5) Incompatible Employment. No public officer or employee shall engage in or accept private employment or render services for private interests when such employment or service creates a conflict with or impairs the proper discharge of his/her official duties, or would to a reasonable person appear to create such conflict or impairment.

(6) Payment Contingent Upon Specific Action. No officer shall accept any form of compensation from any private interest that is expressly or implicitly contingent upon the occurrence of specific City action. (Private Interest: Shall include all individuals, partnerships, corporations and other entities except for the City, its boards, commissions, officers and employees.)

(8) Participant In Contract Making. No elected official shall participate in his/her official capacity in the procurement, negotiation, making, or performance of a contract in which he/she has a material financial interest, whether direct or indirect.

(9) City’s Relationship With Third Parties. No elected official or employee shall influence the City’s selection of, or its conduct of business with any private interest if the elected official has a material financial interest, whether direct or indirect with the private interest.

(11) Use Of City Property. No officer or employee shall use or permit the use of any person, funds, or property under his/her official control, direction, or custody, or of any City funds or property, for a purpose which is, or to a reasonable person would appear to be, for a nonCity purpose.

(12) Entities Doing Business With The City. Regardless of prior disclosure thereof, no officer or employee shall have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in a business entity doing or seeking to do business with the City and influence, or attempt to influence, the selection of, or the City’s conduct with regard to such business entity.

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