The Urban County Council is looking at making major changes to its ethics code for the first time since it was enacted more than 20 years ago.
Council member Chris Ford, who originally proposed making tweaks to the code late last year, appointed a special task force Feb. 3 to look at making changes to the code that governs conduct of Lexington's elected officials.
Ford, who chairs the council's General Government and Social Services Committee, said he hoped the task force would return in 60 days with an update on its work.
Allison Connelly, current chairwoman of the Ethics Commission, said there have been some minor changes to the ethics code in recent years, but the code needs more substantive changes to address issues that were not in the code when it was adopted in 1994.
"One of the things that we have to address is clearly identifying what is a conflict of interest," Connelly said. The ethics code also is silent on the issue of general misconduct. If a council member or other elected official is charged with a crime, there is no specific provision in the ethics code that addresses if it is an ethics violation.
The code also does not address same-sex couples in its prohibitions against nepotism or in its financial disclosure requirements. On the city's financial disclosure forms, elected officials and some high-level city employees — such as commissioners — also list business interests of spouses. But the code does not require the same for same-sex couples, Connelly said.
The city's ethics code also prohibits a direct relative of an elected official from benefitting from the official's elected position. The nepotism provision does not include a partner in a same-sex couple.
"The Fayette Urban County Government recognizes same-sex couples," Connelly said. "We need to update our ethics laws to reflect that."
Another issue is how the Ethics Commission is appointed. The code calls for members to be appointed by the mayor from a list provided by certain organizations. But sometimes those organizations do not have members who can serve on the commission, Connelly said. "Or we try to contact them and we never hear back," she said.
The makeup of the commission needs to be broad, represent various aspects of the community and have the same number of Democrats and Republicans, Connelly said.
"You want a wide spectrum of viewpoints; it helps us reach the best decision," said Connelly, who has served two stints on the commission totaling more than 10 years.
In a memo written to the council, Ford also suggested the council revisit the rules regarding the registration of lobbyists to make it more transparent.
Connelly said the commission has pushed for the changes in the code because of various cases where the deficiencies in the code became apparent.
"It's definitely time to take a look at it," Connelly said. "Hopefully we can try to get a model ethics act that is one of the best in the country but is not too cumbersome."
Connelly said that during the May and November election, the commission saw a record number of complaints filed.
Chairing the special task force will be newly elected council member Angela Evans, who previously served as the chairwoman of the Ethics Commission. Evans is a lawyer, most recently an attorney in the office of Attorney General Jack Conway. Other council members on the task force are Ford, Jennifer Scutchfield, Richard Moloney and Susan Lamb.