Council Attorney says ethics policies do little - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis

Council Attorney says ethics policies do little

While state legislators take up the ethics debate in Nashville, they are also encouraging local governments to step up and create their own ethics policies.

The city of Memphis already has guidelines in place. But one city official says they just don't do much.

City Council Attorney Allan Wade is regularly asked to give the Council advice and, on ethics, he has always told them that policies, like the one that they adopted in 1999, just don't do anything.

Wade says ethics policies are more show than substance. "I think it just provides a guideline, not an absolute death knell if someone doesn't follow it."

In a letter written in 2000 to the City Council, Wade wrote that an ethics ordinance is "legally meaningless" and "should not be pursued."

He says no Council member has the right to discipline another. And that the only people who can remove an unethical official from office are prosecutors and the voting public. "It's like in the sixteenth century, where you put people on pillars and put em on the public square and brand'em with a scarlet letter. That's about the effect of what you're doing," he says.

Council members sign an oath when they take office, and Councilman Tom Marshall took that further when he wrote a broad ethics ordinance in 1999.

But Council member Carol Chumney says the Council needs to take another look.

"When we had the City Attorney give a report, not a single other council member would come into the meeting," she says.

She says a tighter policy will help to define grey areas.

"I think people want the rules to be tight. They want to feel like the elected officials are only looking after the public interest. Not individual interests when they serve in public office," she says.

But Wade says no matter how tight it is, a city ethics policy does little more than tell officials what they should already know. "Until you have the ability and mechanism to replicate what the US attorney does, what the DA does and getting into a significant fact-finding ability, I think that's basically all you can do."

Chumney wants the Council to address the issue at a retreat they're having on February 3rd and 4th.

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