State’s Attorney Offers Mixed Take on ALAW’s Conflict of Interest Proposal for McHenry County Officials
At the McHenry County Board’s Management Services Committee this morning, the members received a January 8th memo from the State’s Attorney’s Office on the Alliance for Land, Agriculture and Water’s proposal to require county officials to reveal
Here’s what Assistant State’s Attorney wrote about ALAW’s proposal:
“…there is a paragraph discussing the “Violation of this Ordinance”, both (a) and (b) cannot be implemented by the County Board.
(a) Any person who knowingly violates any provision of this Act commit~ a Class A misdemeanor, provided that such person has not been convicted of any prior offense under the terms of this Act and shall be ineligible for, or shall forfeit, his or her office or position of employment as the case may be.
(b) Any person who violates any provision of this Act after having been previously convicted of an offense under this Section, commits a Class 4 felony and shall be ineligible for, or shall forfeit, his or her office or position of employment as the case may be.
The County Board is not the legislature and can only exercise those powers granted to it by the legislature. The County Board cannot make an ordinance violation subject to a misdemeanor or a felony. It can only be an ordinance violation.
There are a couple of administrative questions raised:
Section 6(b) – It would require the Public Official to file a revised disclosure statement within thirty days following any event that would require a change in any information or disclaimers contained in the statement or disclaimer on file with the County Clerk. This is currently required once a year. If the proposed ordinance was adopted, this could cause a lot of additional work for the County Clerk
This one seems well worth the added burden on the County Clerk’s Office.
If the public and fellow board members would not be interested in the purchase of property by a board member potentially just prior to re-zoning, when would they want to know?
After a potential conflict of interest had occurred?
Another workload problem is also brought up:
Currently, the state already mandates a “Disclosure of Economic Interests”. By enacting this proposed “McHenry County Economic Interests and Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Ordinance”, it would seem as though both the state and county forms would have to be completed and filed with the County Clerk. Again, this increases the workload of the County Clerk. It would cause a duplicative workload, and fail to adhere to the “green” effort the County is attempting to institute.
The information requested, of course, is not duplicative.
The current form is known by those who file it as the “None, None, None” form. It reveals virtually nothing, as a review of the forms filed by county board members has demonstrated to me.
During World War II, my father was Executive Secretary of the Tri-State (Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey) Canners and Packers Association. In that capacity, he was often on Capitol Hill, bringing members to testify before Congressional Committees. He told me of talking to the high priced lawyer the national association had retained.
“Cal, there are two kinds of lawyers in the world. Those who tell you why you can’t do what you want to do and those who tell you how to do it.”
If the McHenry County Board wants to improve its collective reputation, the message could be sent to the State’s Attorney’s Office to figure out a way to implement the guts of this conflict of interest proposal.
If the penalty for violation is too strict, then lower the penalty.
Transparency is the goal and a determined effort ought to be made to identify and reveal potential conflicts of interest before they become an actual conflict.
Of course, for that to happen, a majority of the members would have to want to change the current way of doing business.
My guess continues to be that current county board members will be insulted that anyone would question their integrity.
Even if they should be, they should realize McHenry County residents live in the Chicago media market and are bombarded weekly with tales of corruption in Chicago, Cook County and State government.
That leads to a suspicious electorate, as I suspect the TEA Party movement, the formation of Patriots United, which is sponsoring a county board candidates’ forum Friday night at MCC. Candidates will be there at 6:30. The event starts at 7.
Maybe someone will ask each candidate if he or she has voluntarily filled out ALAW’s conflict of interest questionnaire, and, if not, why not?