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Davis County first to approve ethics commission

Published September 18, 2012 4:51 pm

State law • Other populous counties will likely follow suit
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

FARMINGTON — Davis County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a three-member ethics commission to review complaints against elected or appointed officials — even though no such allegations have been filed for at least 30 years.

All three elected commissioners are currently Republicans — in fact, all of Davis County's state lawmakers are GOP members as well. However, one specification for the new board is that no more than two members can come from the same political party.

"It's an attempt to be fair-minded and to have diversity on the ethics commission," said Bill McGuire, chief civil deputy attorney for Davis County.

An initial five-member committee — consisting of the county commission chairperson, county attorney, county clerk, county treasurer and personnel director — submits the names of five candidates to serve on the new advisory panel. The county commission will appoint three members from those five names. To stagger service on the board, one member will initially serve for two years while the other two will serve three-year terms,

McGuire said that the new ordinance is driven by SB180, a new state law that took effect Sept 1. No steps have been taken yet to select members of the new panel.

Other requirements for members of the advisory body include being U.S. citizens and having lived in Davis County for at least one year. City, county and state elected or appointed officials are barred from serving.

The new panel can subpoena witnesses, seek evidence and administer oaths to witnesses who testify. Any two registered voters who reside or pay taxes or fees in Davis County can file a complaint.

The ethics chairperson will determine if the complaint meets the ordinance's requirements and if so, schedules a meeting of the ethics commission within 60 days.

In reviewing the allegations — which at this point remain confidential with deliberations occurring behind closed doors — the panel decides if the claims constitute actual ethics violations or are frivolous or politically-motivated. Any leaks during this time result in the complaint's dismissal.

If the alleged violation constitute an ethics violation, a formal hearing is set and the ethics panel can pass the complaint off to the state's Political Subdivision Ethics Review Commission, if it chooses to do so.

Hearings are conducted in open meetings that are audio or video recorded. Complainants must provide clear and convincing evidence and the ethics panel votes on whether that standard has been met.

If it has, the panel's recommendations — censure, termination, removal from office or any other action deemed appropriate — are forwarded to the County Commission, which has the final say. If members of the County Commission are the focus of the complaint, they must recuse themselves.

Utah lawmakers approved SB180 earlier this year, establishing a seven-member commission and process to review ethics complaints against city and county officials. Davis County is the first to pass such an ordinance, said Brent Gardner, executive director of the Utah Association of Counties, but the state's more populous counties are considering similar action.

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

Twitter: @catmck