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From the Desk of
County Executive Jan Gardner

(6/2014) Honesty is a community value. Republicans want honest government. Democrats want honest government. Everyone wants their government to be honest, fair, and impartial.

Citizens deserve to trust their government.

Trust is fundamental to good government. We cannot have good government without trust. Trust is the foundation of all relationships, both personal and professional.

Elected officials can only ensure trust in government, if both real conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest are eliminated.

Throughout the campaign for County Executive, I heard concerns from many citizens about a lack of trust in county government and even concerns with government corruption. I pledged to restore trust in government.

One of my first actions, as County Executive, was to appoint an ethics task force to review and strengthen the ethics ordinance to make it clear that county elected officials could not do business with the county or profit from their position. The work of the task force should be complete by the end of June.

A strong ethics ordinance had previously been in place but was weakened by the prior board of commissioners including eliminating all penalties for serious ethics violations.

It is my objective to set a high standard for county elected officials. It is objectively wrong to have an elected official bidding on contracts on which he/she has actual or potential influence. This is good government 101. Most people agree that county officials’ bidding on county contracts is wrong.

Consider a few potential issues arising from county elected officials bidding and performing work on county contracts.

County elected officials have access to county employees, county buildings, and information others do not have. There is a clear perception that county elected officials could have the advantage of inside information.

County elected officials have the ability to influence county employees including procurement staff, inspectors, and others. County elected officials, including county council members, can cut an agency budget and even line out the salary line for specific employees. In fact, in the most recent budget discussions there were three motions to eliminate funding for specific positions. County employees would reasonably feel pressured to respond to and be influenced by county elected officials.

County elected officials directly vote on the budget that contains these county projects and participate in detailed discussion about the projects, their cost, and their purpose.

If a contractor lost a bid on a project to a county elected official, how could they ever be reasonably assured that there was no inside information, no pressure put on county staff, and no advantage given to the county elected official involved? Contractors have told me they would not even bother to bid on county projects against a county elected official. This does not serve the taxpayers well.

What would happen if the county elected official’s business failed to perform on the contract? How would county employees enforce the terms of the contract? Even worse, imagine the county having to go to court against a county elected official’s business to enforce a contract.

I believe in the free market system and fairness for all participants. Everyone who bids should bid on equal footing.

Thus, I am proud to have signed my first Executive Order to ensure honest and fair government by prohibiting county elected officials – the County Executive and County Council members – from bidding on or performing work on a county contract. The council will consider similar legislation to the county procurement laws in upcoming weeks.

The Executive Order does not change the Ethics Ordinance or any advisory opinion issued by the Ethics Commission as some have suggested. The role of the Ethics Commission in issuing an Advisory Opinions is to interpret the Ethics Ordinance and apply it to a particular situation. The Ethics Commission does not create the rules; it interprets rules that are adopted by others.

The Executive Order addresses the procurement process and what contracts the County Executive will sign under the authority provided in the Charter. Charter Subsection 402(f) provides that "The duties and responsibilities of the Executive shall include :…(f) signing or causing to be signed on the County’s behalf all deeds, contracts and other instruments."

The Executive Order addresses the procurement process. The Ethics Commission has no role in the procurement process or the award of a contract. These are duties assigned to the County Executive.

I pledge to ensure open and honest government, to protect taxpayers, and to ensure fair government processes. It is my responsibility to ensure that county processes are fair and impartial without the appearance of conflict of interest.

Honesty is a community value. I am proud to stand firm for honest government.

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