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July 8, 2015

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CITY GOVERNMENT:

Henderson to consider strengthening ethical rules for employees, elected officials

But ethics watchdog questions effectiveness of effort

Josh Reid

Josh Reid

A proposed Henderson city ordinance would add to ethical standards already governing city employees and elected city officials.

The ordinance, which was first presented last week, will be voted on by the City Council at its Tuesday meeting.

City Attorney Josh Reid said the proposed statute would add more specific guidelines than current state statute, which had previously governed Henderson employees.

“We wanted to create some rules and put a process in place,” Reid said. “I think bringing this process about and getting the employees to read this ordinance is helpful in having them think about their actions and knowing these rules apply.”

Reid said crafting the ordinance was one of his initial goals after being hired as city attorney in November.

The city ordinance covers many of the same areas as the state ethics statute, including disclosure of conflicts of interest, transparency of financial interests and rules for accepting gifts.

Reid said the Henderson ordinance included more specific language on gifts — allowable gifts are capped at $50, as opposed to state statute, which placed no upper limit — and how to address conflicts of interests during a public meeting.

The Henderson ordinance also adds new ethics training requirements for employees and prohibits attorneys in the City Attorney’s Office from taking paid outside work.

Employees also will have the option to seek ethics opinions from the City Attorney’s Office, which could lead to a faster response than the previous model, where such inquiries were directed to the Nevada Commission on Ethics.

Caren Cafferata-Jenkins, executive director of the commission, said she thought the Henderson ordinance would enhance existing state ethics statutes.

“It narrows or specifies for employees and public officers the kind of conduct that is or isn’t expected,” she said, adding that passing the ordinance would help show Henderson government was actively thinking about ethical issues.

“The public’s trust in government only works if the public believes its representatives in government are there with the best interest of the public at heart rather than their own self-interest,” she said.

Martin Dean Dupalo, president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, said the city’s ordinance would “tweak” state statute and not have a substantive effect on how ethics issues were handled on the city level.

“I think it’s a very minor proposal that will have a limited effect,” he said.

Dupalo said employees may be reluctant to report many major potential ethical violations to the city attorney, a position appointed by the city council.

“When you challenge the municipality itself in their own court, that presents problems,” he said.

The ordinance also fails to address other potentially more pressing ethical concerns, like how discretionary funds doled out by city council members are used.

“This is a very safe adjustment,” he said. “It’s nothing new. It’s simply codifying something that (officials and employees) should have been following already.”

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