Ethics Code Reconsidered
Bernalillo County's ethics code is set to undergo yet another rewrite. It may not even be called an "ethics code" anymore.
The County Commission on Tuesday approved introduction of a proposal to repeal what's on the books now and replace it with a 17-page "Code of Conduct" that reflects changes in state law and addresses some criticism of the old ethics code. Final action on the new version is scheduled in August.
County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said the proposed changes are intended to "make this process more cost-effective, more fair and easier to interpret."
Commissioner Wayne Johnson said the changes should save money and address other weaknesses in the current system, but, "I don't believe it's perfect yet."
The proposal calls for the selection of a "neutral, nonpartisan" compliance officer hired by the county manager and county attorney to accept complaints alleging violations of the new Code of Conduct. The compliance officer would refer the complaints or allegations to the appropriate body and monitor what happens to them.
There would also be a five-member Code of Conduct Review Board, with one member appointed by each county commissioner. The board would act on complaints, hold hearings and issue advisory opinions.
For elected officials and candidates, the board would have the power to levy fines of up to $1,000 or issue written censures. It could refer cases to the district attorney if its members believe an elected official has done something that merits removal from office.
The Code of Conduct changes how anonymous allegations of misconduct are handled. Under the current system, anonymous reports submitted to the county are investigated by an outside firm.
The proposed code calls for the compliance officer to refer the allegations to the appropriate body and monitor the outcome. Formal complaints signed by someone go to the Code of Conduct Review Board.
The code itself outlines a host of requirements prohibiting conflicts of interest, improper attempts to influence hiring decisions, interference in the competitive bidding process or political activity on county time. Commissioners could still be listed as references by job applicants.
Elected officials would have to file public statements each year with information on their economic interests, including land holdings.
The County Commission voted 4-0 in favor of accepting introduction of the proposal. Michael Wiener wasn't present when the vote was taken.
The commission has worked repeatedly on revising its ethics code since 2009.
The state Legislature amended the Governmental Conduct Act last year to make it applicable to local government officials and employees. That created a situation, county attorneys said, in which county officials are subject to two slightly different codes — the county's ethics code and the state's conduct code.
The proposal before commissioners would adopt the state's Code of Conduct requirements and make other changes aimed at easing enforcement.