Host reminded again to follow ethics opinion
By Lisa Brody
Birmingham City Manager Jana Ecker sent an email on Wednesday, November 8, to city commissioner Brad Host to once again advise and admonish him regarding his involvement and support of a neighborhood group in opposition to street improvements being studied by the city's multi-modal transportation board before they have rendered an opinion and before it has come before the city commission.
Per an email exchange, resident Jim Mirro reached out to Host as he and some other residents living on Shirley and Arlington streets are concerned the streets will be narrowed and sidewalks will be installed on both sides of the street. In Host's responses, he indicated he would be of assistance to them, which Ecker pointed out is a violation of both the city's Code of Ethics as well as the Ethics Board opinion from earlier this year which stated, “Advocacy outside of proper governmental channels may result in or create the appearance that you have lost impartiality or independence of action. It also puts you personally at risk of a conflict of interest that could disqualify you from making a decision that you were elected or appointed to make.”
Ecker further pointed out to Host, “The Ethics Board in fact counseled you specifically (Decision 2023-1) to ensure that your actions do not call into question your impartiality or lead to a disqualifying conflict of interest.The Ethics Board majority opinion stated: 'The Code of Ethics is clear that Commissioner Host – and the planning board members, too – must be independent, impartial, and responsible to the people; he and they must make governmental decisions and policy in the proper governmental channels. (Birmingham Code of Ethics 2-320(1)-(2)). Commissioner Host is required to avoid any action which might result in, or create the appearance of, losing complete independence or impartiality of action, of making a decision outside official channels, or affecting adversely the confidence of the public or the integrity of the City government.”
Specifically, Ecker noted that in his involvement with Mirro, Host stated “'I’m sure you are aware that it has been decided that the aging sewers that run along Arlington and Shirley are going to be replaced. What has not been determined, however, is what improvements to the roads (surface, width, sidewalks, etc.) will be made once the sewer replacement work is completed.'” These statements are not accurate, as the city commission has not yet conducted a public hearing or voted to replace the sewers on Arlington or Shirley….To say that it has been already decided that the aging sewers that run along Arlington and Shirley are going to be replaced is false and misleading, which is non-compliant with the Ethic’s Board’s direction.”
Ecker was particularly piqued pointing out he had compromised his impartiality when he agreed “agreed 'to support the position of the majority of our property owners without regard to the final design from the city,' could be construed to create the appearance that you have already made up your mind on how you intend to vote on the matter outside of the official public hearing process, which has not yet occurred.”
Among other particulars Ecker takes Host to task for in her email, of note is her final admonishment, “It is very important when communicating with the public to be accurate in your statements, and not perpetuate false or misleading information that may undermine the city’s ability to operate effectively, openly and in the best interest of the people we are all striving to serve.”
Host responded to Ecker that he did not believe he had to correct any information sent to Mirro as he believes he is acting as a responsible member of the commission.
Both Ecker and mayor Therese Longe were unavailable for comment
It is possible that a formal complaint could be filed before the city's ethics board against Host by a member of the administration, city commission or a member of the public for violating his impartiality and agreeing to support members of the public on an issue prior to the matter coming before boards and the city commission, of which he is member.
According to city ordinance, if Host is potentially found in violation of the board of ethics' advisory opinions, and/or hearing findings, “the city commission shall be responsible for imposing any sanction for a violation of this code on one of its members or any person appointed by the commission to any city board.”