Fayette County

Lexington’s ethics act would add domestic partners to nepotism ban

A proposed overhaul of Lexington’s ethics act that adds provision for general misconduct, expands financial disclosure requirements and adds domestic partners to the city’s nepotism prohibitions was unveiled Tuesday.

The Urban County Council’s General Government and Social Service’s Committee discussed the changes, the first major overhaul of the city’s ethics ordinance since it was enacted in 1994. The committee took no votes. The act will be discussed again at the committee’s November meeting. The Urban County Ethics Commission meets in August and will have the opportunity to review the proposed changes before the council returns to the proposal in November.

A council subcommittee has been meeting for 16 months to work on changes to the ethics act.

The ethics commission issues advisory opinions, oversees financial disclosure forms for elected and high-ranking city and county officials, and hears ethics complaints.

Included in the proposed changes is a provision that would give Mayor Jim Gray and future administrations sole appointing authority for the nine-member ethics commission. Those members would have to be confirmed by the council. Currently, potential members are nominated by certain groups, including Citizens for Ethical Government. Some of those groups are either inactive or have too few members to forward names to the administration. That has left vacancies on the commission.

Under the proposed changes, the members will come from certain sectors but won’t be nominated by certain groups. For example, one member will come from the legal profession; one from business groups. The act also says that “as much as possible,” the makeup of the commission will be balanced between men and women, and Republican and Democrats.

“The impact of that would be the administration would have full responsibility for gathering the candidates,” said Councilwoman Angela Evans, who chaired the ethics act subcommittee. “That’s a big change than how it is done now.”

Evans said the proposed changes would define financial interests and private interests. Those private interests include disclosing whether an elected official or their significant other serves on a board of a nonprofit. The current ethics act does not define private interests.

“It’s an issue that has come up over the years,” Evans said.

Currently, if a council member or other elected official is charged with a crime, there is no provision in the ethics code that addresses whether it’s an ethics violation. The proposed changes add a general misconduct charge.

“It is still in the context of using the office inappropriately,” Evans said. “It is not broad. It does not include something such as DUI.”

The ethics act also doesn’t address same-sex or domestic partners in its prohibition 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 — list business interests of spouses. The changes unveiled Tuesday would require financial disclosures for same-sex couples and domestic partners.

Councilman Jake Gibbs questioned why the city didn’t require lobbyists to register. The state has a similar requirement.

Evans said they thought it would be too unwieldy to police because most of the people who speak to the council on issues aren’t paid lobbyists. They are concerned citizens.

Vice Mayor Steve Kay agreed. Kay said he can count on one hand the number of times that he has been contacted by a paid lobbyist.

Councilman Richard Moloney applauded the changes but recommended that the council review the proposal and come back to it in November. The council agreed.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall