Editor’s Note: Much of the following was taken from a Feb. 3, 2016 column I penned. With the November election rapidly approaching, it bears repeating.
Common sense and government don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
It just usually works out that way.
That’s why whenever citizens have the opportunity to infuse the latter with the former, they need to seize it.
Such is the case in Oxford Village where voters are being asked to approve six amendments to the municipality’s charter.
All of them appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Two of these amendments are just good, old-fashioned common sense.
One prohibits public officials from having conflicts of interest while serving the municipality.
The other requires officials to stay up-to-date on all their financial obligations to the village, from property taxes to utility bills.
Both make perfect sense and both deserve overwhelming approval.
The amendment dealing with conflicts of interest is long, long overdue.
One of the most basic, and often ignored, tenets of good government is the people holding public office should not be allowed to use, or abuse, their position in order to enrich themselves or those close to them via business dealings, contracts, etc.
Officials are there to serve the people and guide the community, not line their pockets or fatten the wallets of their family, friends and business associates. Officials are there to conduct our business, not theirs.
I’ve always firmly believed that if a person is an elected or appointed official neither they, nor their family members, should have any personal financial relationships with the government they serve.
For example, if they or their spouse own a company, the government should have no dealings with that company, period. No contracts, no one-time purchases, nothing.
Even if there’s no funny business going on, it still looks bad and in government, even the slightest appearance of impropriety should be avoided at all costs because the public’s trust is at stake.
Simply abstaining from voting is not enough because as long as you serve on the board that makes the spending decisions, you have the opportunity and ability to influence your fellow officials.
Currently, the charter actually allows council members to have an interest, either “directly or indirectly,” in any contract made with the municipality or services performed for it as long as the remaining council members say it’s okay through a unanimous vote.
This is truly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever encountered in all my years covering local government. As long as the rest of the council likes you, you can basically do whatever you want, no matter how bad it looks, no matter how unethical it is.
Having charter language prohibiting conflicts of interest in accordance with state law would be a giant step in the right direction and hopefully, help clean up the village.
I also support the proposed amendment that prohibits people from seeking or holding elective and appointed office if they’re indebted to the municipality, meaning they’re “more than 90 days past due” on “any water bill or other financial obligation to the village.”
Basically, you can’t run for office or be appointed to a board, if you’re delinquent on your payments to the village. You also face potential removal from office if you don’t pay your bills.
It stands to reason the folks who set the rates for our property taxes, water and sewer services, and trash collection should pay their bills in a timely manner like the rest of us are expected to do. If they cannot do so, then they shouldn’t be able to hold office and make those decisions.
Normally, I don’t make it a practice to stick my nose in other people’s financial affairs. But it’s most certainly my business when a council member representing me is consistently not meeting the same municipal financial obligations that I am expected to satisfy.
As a village taxpayer, I don’t like the idea of someone who owes large sums of money to the municipality continuing to serve on council and make decisions that affect my pocketbook. A bunch of words for this person come to mind – hypocrite, mooch, deadbeat, loser . . .
I love, love, love the idea of being able to remove someone from office for not paying their bills. That’s not harsh. That’s reasonable. That’s fair. That’s just.
Public officials are supposed to be held to a higher standard of conduct and that includes paying their debts to the government they serve.
Would you want to be represented by a U.S. congressman who doesn’t pay any income tax? Would you want to be served by a township treasurer who doesn’t pay his property taxes?
If you can’t live by the rules you set for everyone, you shouldn’t be making them.
That’s common sense.
I hope village voters will see the wisdom and logic of these two charter amendments and approve them, along with the other four, when they go to the polls.
Ethical government doesn’t just happen. The public has to demand it and take the necessary steps to make it a reality.
In other words, don’t just sit on your ass – do something.