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Ethics board okays participation in non-profits

By Grace Lovins

Birmingham’s Ethics Board issued an advisory opinion, discussed during the city commission meeting on Monday, October 2, that stated elected officials, appointed officials and city employees are not barred from establishing or being involved in the administration of private nonprofit foundations.

City commissioner Clinton Baller had raised the question and brought the issue before the ethics board, seeking an advisory opinion to determine after asking if commissioners were able to establish a community foundation during one of the commission’s regular meetings. While the recently approved 2040 Master Plan recommends establishing a community foundation, city attorney Mary Kucharek advised commissioners that it should be left to the private sector.

Baller then made a request with the city’s ethics board for an advisory opinion on the matter.

At the ethics board meeting on Friday, June 23, Baller asked three specific questions which were addressed in the board’s opinion; What are the ethical considerations if an elected official, appointed official or city employee is involved in the establishment and administration of the foundation? He also asked if there is an ethical concern if he, Baller, donates or loans under $5,000 to establish the foundation, and if the board had any other considerations or advice related to city personnel establishing or serving in the administration of a community foundation.

The ethics board wrote that a city official donating or raising funds on behalf of a community foundation is allowed, but the official has to be careful about recognizing conflicts of interest.

In the advisory opinion, the board also said that the code of ethics doesn’t bar an elected official from involvement in the establishment or in the administration of a foundation. The board also emphasized that the responsibility of Baller and any other commissioner is to the city, and they need to be on alert for conflicts of interest. He would have to recuse himself from any city commission discussion and voting related to the foundation.

The board cited several parts of the ethics ordinance in a section of the opinion that dealt with potential conflicts of interest. Commissioners are not prevented from establishing a foundation, but they are barred from participating in discussions of that organization at the commission level.

Commissioners reviewed the opinion during the regular meeting, but no formal action was needed or taken.


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