is anything they do in unnecessary secret.
There are things that governments do in private; secrets they
keep from the public with good reason. However, the exceptions
to public records and public meetings law are specific and limited.
Limitations are critical because the more things government
does in secret, the more fuel there is to feed the fires of doubt
and suspicion that public interests are being betrayed in favor
of the personal interests of the powerful and the politically
Power does not corrupt, absolutely or even just a little.
Temptation corrupts; the greater the temptation the greater
the likelihood it will provoke corruption. It is human nature.
There is no legislation that will change human nature.
The clearest path to eliminating corruption is to eliminate
temptation. Casinos for example, eliminate most theft, by
eliminating temptation - it is nearly impossibly difficult to
steal from a casino. Their greatest tool in eliminating the
temptation is the certainty that there is no secrecy; there
is no place where there would be temptation, where there
is not also a camera, or two, or three.
County Commissioner Wayne Johnson is concerned that three
Ethics Committee members met
in secret and dismissed a complaint
made against Commissioner
Maggie Hart-Stebbins. He has
released an op-ed on the issue, link.
The complaint had gone through the
process; an independent investigator
had determined the complaint had
merit. The investigator prepared
a sworn complaint which along with
the results of the investigation, was
supposed to be presented to the full
Ethics Board. Instead, it was presented to a sub-group of three
Ethics Board members who met in secret and dismissed the
The specifics of the complaint are important but irrelevant
to this discussion. The issue is not whether the group of three
came to a correct conclusion, but rather whether they should
have come to any conclusion at all, whether they should even
have met, at all. Johnson argues that the County Ethics
Ordinance does not provide for hearings by less than the full
The independent investigator has determined that three
complaints have been made that have merit; are worthy of
consideration by the Ethics Committee.
None have been heard
by the full Ethics Board.
The ordinance clearly intends that a full board of five members be present to hear complaints – even providing for a replacement appointee where a member has a conflict of interest.Johnson's concern extends to the fact that
At the time the dismissed case was “reviewed” by the “review committee,” there were two members of the Ethics Board still waiting to be confirmed and one of the three “review committee” members was an appointee of the accused.He wondered;
How can the public trust a ruling from a committee where one of three members was appointed by the accused, the decision was made in secret, and the County Attorney appears to be encouraging dismissal without a public hearing?Johnson's op-ed didn't include any allegation of impropriety
beyond that the group met without authority. He hasn't
accused anyone of unethical behavior. The point he makes is
We will never know for sure (if there was unethical behavior) ... because that case has been dismissed in secret by a “review committee".There is lies the rub. Perception is reality in the eyes of the
perceiver. It doesn't make any difference if the Ethics Board
is above reproach if the people perceive that it is not.
The people of Bernalillo County deserve open, transparent, and ethical government. There can be no shortcuts to dismissal and no short circuiting of the original process created by the Commission. Valid complaints need to be heard in public not dismissed behind closed doors. It’s our responsibility as elected officials to restore and maintain the trust in county government. Obviously, we still have a long way to go.Hear, hear. wikilink
photos Mark Bralley