Council amends ethics, appointment policies

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 4, 2012

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In the latest in a series of policy amendments, City Council voted Aug. 21 to tweak the appointment process for some boards and commissions, but postponed a proposal to limit elected officials’ contact with appointed officials.

Council members unanimously agreed to nominate applicants for certain boards at a regular meeting in May, with appointment occurring at a subsequent meeting in June.

The format applies only to the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Board of Ordinance Appeals, the Board of Review, the Police and Fire Pension Board and the General Employees Retirement System Board, all of which will be handled separately from remaining boards and commissions.

Mayor Pro Tem Michael Taylor said he proposed the change because he felt the previous process, which entailed nomination and appointment in one step, was insufficient for those six panels in particular, considering the amount of potential impact their rulings could have on the community.

“While all of our boards and commissions are important to us, certain boards really dictate policy and can make decisions that affect the city as a whole,” he said. “I’d like to see a little bit more oversight on those nominations.”

The new process can always be scrapped later if it fails to live up to expectations, Taylor added, but “maintaining status quo isn’t an improvement.”

Mayor Richard Notte said he thinks Taylor’s idea “will work well,” and while Councilwoman Barb Ziarko and Councilman Joseph Romano said their first inclination was to leave the process as is, they’d since changed their minds.

“I can’t see a reason not to do it this way,” said Ziarko, and Romano agreed, indicating it gives officials a chance to discuss, prior to appointment, why they feel an individual would be best suited for the board in question.

The governing body rules of procedure have been amended eight times since their adoption in April 1994, including once already this year, in June.

Concurring that the language needed reworking for clarity’s sake, council also voted unanimously for administrators to retool a proposed ethics principles and guidelines amendment governing council members’ interactions with appointed boards and commissions.

The issue recently surfaced after members of the Zoning Board of Appeals voiced disapproval over correspondence from Councilman Paul Smith on multiple projects, including a residential development near his subdivision.

ZBA members decried the action improper, while Smith maintained that he didn’t relinquish his rights as a resident when he took office.

City Attorney Jeff Bahorski also agreed to look into whether prohibitions against candidates for office campaigning at the podium during public comment were already contained in the city’s cable TV regulations or if the rule should be spelled out elsewhere.

Also under the ethics umbrella, council voted 6-1, with Smith dissenting, to approve an amendment to “preclude introductions of candidates at public meetings and other official city functions.”

Such a situation arose earlier this year, when a candidate approached officials at the city’s Cultural Exchange and asked to be introduced to the crowd during the evening’s opening remarks.

Proponents of the change said it was only proper to publicly acknowledge already elected officials in such circumstances, though Smith argued that that setup unfairly skewed the system in incumbents’ favor.

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