Council continues debate over conflict of interest among board

Perception is litmus test

The Crested Butte Town Council continues to struggle with defining a conflict of interest, and putting that definition into town ordinance form.

 

 

Town attorney John Belkin is pushing the issue. He has told the council that he was uncomfortable in the past with council members sitting on various non-profit boards, advocating for those boards and voting to help fund the organizations.
Belkin came to a council work session on Tuesday, September 8 armed with a PowerPoint presentation explaining his concerns and showing suggested fixes. The discussion has been ongoing for months and Belkin felt he had reached a compromise.
The attorney outlined three primary points for the council to be aware of. “The key term is substantial interest,” he said. “Does the council member have the possibility of a pecuniary gain from the outcome of a vote? Is there a reasonable probability the business or undertaking stands to significantly benefit? If a third party is observing the discussion and decision, is it perceived as being subjective or objective? Does it pass the smell test?”
Councilperson Skip Berkshire said that definition was, “really a time bomb. Everyone has different perceptions and perception is important, but where is the line?” he asked. “Part of our job up here is to try to influence the rest of the council. I have a real problem with other peoples’ perception.”
Councilperson Margot Levy also expressed discomfort. “No business or non-profit comes here unless they want to benefit economically by a public decision,” she said. “If they ask for a special events permit and we grant it, they benefit.”
Councilperson Leah Williams said she felt as long as a council member announced his or her affiliation with a board, any conflict could be eliminated.
Councilperson Billy Rankin told Belkin part of the town attorney’s job was to protect the board from treading into potential conflict-of-interest waters during discussions. “Nothing is black and white,” he said.
Belkin said a big part of the litmus test would be perception.
During the actual council meeting, Berkshire said he didn’t think the council “will ever get a bulletproof ordinance on this issue. I don’t think it is perfect but I could live with what has been presented. I’m pretty okay with the direction.”
Williams asked for more policy reliance from Belkin and town manager Susan Parker.
Belkin will tweak the proposals and bring back the issue for public hearing at the September 21 meeting.

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