Grosse Pointe Park officials, employees subject to new ethics ordinance

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 25, 2020


GROSSE POINTE PARK — Grosse Pointe Park employees and officials have a new regulation on the books to help guide their actions.

The Park City Council approved an ethics ordinance and an Ethics Committee during a meeting July 13 over Zoom.

City Councilman Daniel Grano, who thanked the city attorney and fellow council members Lauri Read and Michele Hodges for their work on this, said they modeled the Park’s ordinance on one in place in Birmingham.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Grano, who chairs the Park’s Ordinance Review Committee. “I think this (ordinance) is pretty comprehensive.”

The 11-page ethics ordinance asks that city employees and officials “avoid any action … which might result in, or create the appearance of, 1) using public employment or office for private gain; 2) giving or accepting preferential treatment, including the use of city property or information, to or from any organization or person; 3) losing complete independence or impartiality of action; 4) making a city decision outside official channels; or 5) affecting adversely the confidence of the public or the integrity of the city government.”

The Ethics Committee calls for a three-member, unpaid advisory panel of qualified Park residents, with the members to be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. Initial committee members would be named to one-, two- and three-year terms, with members thereafter to serve three-year terms; the intent of the staggered terms is so that one member’s term would expire each year.

Members could serve a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms. Members couldn’t be elected officials or city employees, nor could they be serving on any other city board or committee. The city attorney would serve as an ex-officio, non-voting member. If the city attorney were to be the subject of an ethics complaint, the city attorney would be recused.

Some council members questioned having the city attorney serving on the Ethics Committee, although Mayor Robert Denner said he was “quite comfortable” with the city attorney acting in that capacity.

City Attorney Thomas Howlett said this didn’t present a conflict of interest.

“My client is not the individual council members — it’s the council as a whole,” Howlett said. “I don’t think it raises ethical or conflict concerns. … I think it’s beneficial to have the city attorney serve in that role.”

Howlett said there would be additional cost to the city to hire a third-party attorney.

Some of the council members were also apprehensive about the committee appointment process.

“My concern is that the residents feel this is a completely independent board,” said Read, who recommended public interviews for Ethics Committee applicants. “This particular board is going to be charged with potentially adjudicating complaints against council or members of the administration.”

City Councilman James Robson, who serves on the Ordinance Review Committee, said that traditionally, the mayor appoints committee members and the council approves those appointments. Howlett said that’s how the city charter governs committee appointments, although he acknowledged that they struggled with the process in this case.

“There still could be an interview process,” Robson said.

Denner said he “could agree” with Read’s suggestion that the council members could select their top three to five applicants and, based on those rankings, find candidates they all could approve.

With this change, the ethics ordinance passed by a unanimous vote of the council. However, the council was split on an amendment — made by City Councilwoman Aimee Rogers Fluitt — that council members recuse themselves from voting on initiatives that derive from any other organization or board on which they also serve. Read, Fluitt, Robson, Hodges and City Councilman Vikas Relan voted in favor of the amendment — which passed — but Denner and Grano cast dissenting votes.

For Denner and Grano, the sticking point on the amendment was the nonprofit Grosse Pointe Park Foundation, on which current and former council members have served. The foundation has raised money for a number of improvement projects in the city.

“I don’t necessarily see that as a conflict of interest if you are trying to raise money for the city,” Grano said.

Howlett agreed.

“I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest,” he said. “It’s really to prevent someone from using their (public position) for personal gain.”

Relan said that if a person has already voted in favor of a project during an organization meeting, they “don’t have an open mind” when they need to vote on that same project at the council level.

Read said it’s not a conflict of interest, but it is a “conflict of loyalty” that comes into play.

As to discipline for ethics violations, Howlett said it would be up to the council and it would vary based on the nature of the violation.