Friday, June 15, 2007

Board members and conflict of interest ethics violations

Several members of the NCTCOG RTC are probably in violation of Chapter 176 of the Local Government Code which reads:

(4) describe each affiliation or business
relationship with a corporation or other business entity with
respect to which a local government officer of the local
governmental entity:

(A) serves as an officer or director; or
(B) holds an ownership interest of 10 percent or

(5) describe each affiliation or business
relationship with an employee or contractor of the local
governmental entity who makes recommendations to a local government
officer of the local governmental entity with respect to the
expenditure of money;
(6) describe each affiliation or business
relationship with a person who:
(A) is a local government officer; and
(B) appoints or employs a local government
officer of the local governmental entity that is the subject of the
questionnaire; and
(7) describe any other affiliation or business
relationship that might cause a conflict of interest
(d) A person described by Subsection (a) shall file an
updated completed questionnaire with the appropriate records
administrator not later than:
(1) September 1 of each year in which an activity
described by Subsection (a) is pending; and
(2) the seventh business day after the date of an event
that would make a statement in the questionnaire incomplete or

Refer to the Chapter 176 Local Government Code

The By Laws of the RTC cites adherence to Chapter 171 of the Local Government Code which has a more narrow interpretion of Conflict of Interest.

At the June 14 RTC Meeting of the NCTCOG, a member inquired about possible conflicts of interest by RTC members specifically in relation to the upcoming vote on awarding the lucrative SH121 contract at the Monday, June 18th RTC meeting. A specific question was asked about members of the RTC who are TxDOT officials refraining from voting. A NCTCOG official replied that it would be left to the members, including NTTA Board Member Dallas Mayor Lauri Miller to decide whether they have a conflict of interest.

In a February phone call to NCTCOG Executive Director Mike Eastland, he stated that "We (the NCTCOG) do not usually attempt to enforce ethics conflict of interest rules on members of committees who are appointed by member governments." When questioned about a specific member with alliances which created at the very least, the impression of a conflict of interest, Eastland replied: "You'll have to go to the District Attorney in the county where the member lives to file a complaint of ethics violations." Concern was expressed to Mr. Eastland that the NCTCOG did not attempt to monitor ethical conduct of members serving on their boards and commissions in regard to actions in relation to their service on NCTCOG Boards and Commissions.

Application of ethics rules by Councils of Governments varies:
in March 2007, the Executive Director of the East Texas Council of Governments said: "We take very seriously the actions of members of boards and commissions as well as staff in service to the COG. Our attorney explains very clearly to all our members that they are to avoid conflicts of interest and the perception of conflicts of interest." He said that they "monitor and try to avoid possible violations," rather than referring them to the home county of the members. This statement was made in a telephone call within days of NCTCOG Executive Director Mike Eastland's explanation that at the NCTCOG they leave it to each member to determine if they have a conflict of interest.

At the RTC June Public Meeting in Arlington, concern was expressed that three members of the RTC serve on the Board of Directors of NASCO CORRIDOR, an organization with a mission statement to influence local, regional, state and federal governments to enact laws and fund improvements and construction of multi state tranportation corridors to priotize the shipment of international cargo over passenger transportation solutions. NCTCOG Transportation Director Mike Morris stated he saw no conflict of interest in three NASCO CORRIDOR Board Members (Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, RTC Chairwoman Denton County Commissioner Cynthia White and RTC member Denton Mayor Pro-tem Tex Kamp) serving on the Regional Transportation Committee, where they set policies for this region and vote awarding contracts for construction projects.

Thursday June 14 at the RTC meeting was the first time since these queries earlier in the Spring to Executive Director Mike Eastland, that RTC members have openly discusses possible conflicts of interest of RTC members. Those members who voiced the subject are to be commended. Commissioner Maurine Dickey of Dallas asked how the NCTCOG RTC bylaws address conflict of interest. Staff replied that they 'were not sure' but would research it and post the bylaws on the RTC website before the Monday meeting.

Examining the bylaws today revealed that the bylaws address adnerence to Chapter 171 of the Texas Local Government Code. It is recommended that the NCTCOG instruct its members and vendors that they must also adhere to Chapter 176, which addresses Members of Board of Directors as having conflicts of interest in addition to those who own 10% financial interest in a business or investment.

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