homepage logo

Commission delays decision to approve ethics code changes

By Staff | Apr 15, 2009

Revising Lee County’s code of ethics policy has proved more difficult than commissioners originally thought.
Presented by staff Tuesday to the Lee County Commission, the revised policy did not indicate a paper trail is necessary when county employees, elected officials or contracted employees disclose gifts, personal investments or real estate purchases.
According to the policy, verbal disclosure when it pertains to personal investments and gifts to a certain amount are sufficient.
The revision — due in part to the controversy surrounding Lee County Manager Don Stilwell’s investment in son-in-law Samir Cabrera’s land deals — stirred confusion among commissioners, who admitted they did not give a detailed summation of what they expected in the policy revisions.
Commissioners did agree, however, that verbal disclosure is not satisfactory.
“I’m trying to make certain our employees won’t come under question,” Commissioner Tammy Hall said. “I don’t want people to have to go on their verbal word.”
Hall also found that the board is walking a fine line when it comes to employees’ personal lives, and holding the public’s trust in regards to investments.
Commissioner Brian Bigelow took the opposite tract and suggested low to high level county managers publicly disclose all property and personal investments, other than their homes, to create a “living, breathing document.”
“I don’t see why it’s a problem when real estate investments are public information anyway,” he said.
Commissioners Bob Janes and Frank Mann agreed a paper trail is necessary when it comes to disclosure, but Mann specifically got hung up on the word “potential,” which appears in several places throughout the revised code.
As the code reads in section 206:2: “In order to avoid any potential appearance of conflict of interest, employees are discouraged from accepting any and all gifts from any person or firm doing business with, or regulated by, Lee County Government.”
Mann cited Stilwell’s particular bit of trouble earlier in the year when it came to the “potential.”
“We are going to create the potential for chaos and criticism,” he said.
The commission decided to play it safe and defer for three weeks the decision of adopting the code, allowing staff to go back and re-examine the policy.
The vote was unanimous.