WARREN — Standards of conduct, gifts and loans, free meals — for members of the city’s boards and commissions, the matters are no small potatoes as far as Mayor Jim Fouts is concerned.
Still, some members of the council are concerned that Fouts’ latest proposed amendments to the city’s existing ethics ordinance would unjustly make issues out of coffee and cookies.
Earlier this month, Fouts proposed changes to the city’s ethics ordinance that would prohibit seated members of Warren boards and commissions from accepting free food or drinks from anyone involved in past or pending business with the board or commission in question.
“There’s a quid pro quo, where members of boards and commissions are being wined and dined for their vote on a particular issue,” Fouts said. “They’re influenced by a plate full of food and a glass of wine or beer. It gives the appearance that ethics in Warren takes a back seat to a seat at the dining table.”
Fouts’ request was promptly denied by a unanimous vote of the council on March 11.
Council member Kathy Vogt likened banning such things as the acceptance of light refreshments from a developer at a community meeting to “going off the deep end.”
“If we’re concerned about our board and commissioners being influenced by a beverage or a meal, we should reconsider who’s on our boards and commissions,” Vogt said. “This is insulting.”
Vogt, an attorney, said she doesn’t think the provisions of the ordinance would stand up in court.
“It’s absurd when you get down to a cup of coffee, a cookie, being in violation of the ethics ordinance. We’re just falling off the deep end,” Vogt said.
Council member Donna Caumartin said the city’s entire ethics ordinance, not just the proposed new amendment, would need to be examined as a whole.
Councilman Mark Liss, an attorney with the city of Royal Oak, agreed.
“I’ve had to work with the state statutes dealing with these areas. I’m not exactly sure if our own ethics ordinance complies with state law,” Liss said. “I agree with Councilwoman Caumartin and Councilwoman Vogt that we need to look at the whole thing, and not just piecemeal right now.”
Shortly after taking office last November, Fouts said he would make all political appointees sign an ethics code. Expressly prohibited under that agreement were the acceptance of gifts and “abuses of power,” drinking on the job, nepotism, sexual harassment of any kind and discrimination based on race or age.
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