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Utah cities, counties, guv preparing for new ethics commission law

Published August 31, 2012 10:46 pm

Statute • Some entities planning their own review panels.
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A new state law, SB180, takes effect Sept. 1, establishing a seven-member commission and a process to review ethics allegations against elected and appointed city and county officials throughout Utah.

The legislation also allows cities and counties to create their own panels and procedures should they prefer to handle such complaints closer to home.

Davis County commissioners were poised Tuesday to install their ethics-committee ordinance but pulled the item for further legal review.

"One of the reasons we'd want to consider keeping it local is that we know the local issues," said Davis Commissioner Bret Millburn, "and I think we have very talented folks who can handle it at the local level rather than pushing it up to the state."

Chief Deputy Attorney Bill McGuire said he could not remember receiving an ethics complaint during his more than three decades of service in Davis County's civil division. But the state's third largest county hopes to be ready if allegations start to fly.

"We proposed three members, but it hasn't been solidified yet," McGuire said. The proposed advisory panel would screen confidential complaints to determine whether violations occurred and would then forward the allegations to the County Commission for subsequent action.

Davis County's trio of ethics advisers would need to reside in the county and would be chosen by its three elected commissioners, McGuire said. All three Davis County commissioners are currently Republicans.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, sponsored SB180 in the 2012 legislative session and said the statute was intended to be more permissive than prescriptive.

"We wanted to provide an alternative, should a municipality want to avail itself of it," Bramble said, adding that Provo was the catalyst but not the basis of his legislation.

Steve Turley, who served on Provo's City Council for nearly eight years, resigned his post last September after months of investigation found he violated conflict-of-interest rules and used council information for personal gain. The mayor and council had called for his resignation almost two months before Turley decided to step down.

Resident complaints filed against Turley landed him in 4th District Court, and on Tuesday, Judge Steven L. Hansen set his preliminary hearing on multiple fraud counts for Oct. 24-25.

According to SB180, the state's seven-member commission will consist of registered voters appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate.

The state commission will include one former judge from a Utah court of record, one former municipal mayor or council member, one former school board member, and two lay persons. The final two members can come from the following categories: former municipal mayor or council member, former county mayor or commissioner, a special service district board member, or a judge. All former elected officials and board members must have left their posts at least four years ago.

Those who cannot serve include current city or county officers and employees, agency heads and lobbyists.

For a state level panel, Gov. Gary Herbert is reviewing names, but there is no set date for when he will appoint the seven members, a representative of his office said Tuesday. In the meantime, several cities and counties are devising their own alternatives.

"We've been in constant communication with the Utah Municipal Attorneys Association to talk about this issue," said Lincoln Shurtz, legislative affairs director for the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

According to Shurtz, a group of Salt Lake County cities is collaborating to form a regional ethics review commission, while South Salt Lake will establish its own internal panel that could serve as a template for other small cities to adopt.

Brent Gardner, executive director of Utah Association of Counties, said that Salt Lake and Utah counties are looking to establish their own committees, and Weber County is expected to follow suit. The state's smaller counties — which are apt to have fewer cases and smaller legal staffs — will likely go with the state's default commission, Gardner said. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office is "98 percent finished" with its ethics commission statute, which should be ready for a vote of the County Council this fall.

"It's still a work in progress," Gill said.

cmckitrick@sltrib.com Twitter: @catmck —

Utah's new ethics commission for cities and counties

Seven • The number of registered voters to be appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the state Senate. Each can serve up to two four-year terms.

Who can serve • One former judge from a Utah court of record, one former municipal mayor or council member, one former school board member, and two lay persons. The final two members can come from the following categories: former municipal mayor or council member, former county mayor or commissioner, a special service district board member, or a judge. All must have left their elected or appointed posts at least four years ago.

Who cannot serve • Current city or county officers and employees, agency heads and lobbyists.

Source: SB180, to take effect Sept. 1.