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June 11, 2013

Charter Review Committee revisits conflict of interest

HUNTSVILLE —

The Huntsville Charter Review Committee voted Tuesday to “express a level of concern” to City Council regarding conflict of interest standards in the City Charter.  

Committee member Charles Smither Jr. put Section 14.09 up for discussion, suggesting a change to the section to include employees of government agencies under conflict of interest guidelines.

But only Smither and John Escobedo voted against the motion set by Bill Daugette to leave the section unedited, while suggesting the council look further into it.  

The current charter, amended in 2009, prohibits city officials and employees from voting on business decisions that are of substantial interest to those individuals.

Smither – considering the role state agencies play in the local economy between Sam Houston State University and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – wanted to include employees of state agencies in the charter.

“Everybody knows the size of the college, land mass, number of students and employees,” Smither said. “It’s a major force in the city. Numerous college professors and employees have been on City Council over the past 20 or 30 years. I think it’s imperative that elephant in the backroom is leveled out. The affect of excluding any of those people that work for the college, TDCJ, or governmental agencies from having to comply with the conflict of interest rules is very foolish on the part of Huntsville.”

There has been conflict between committee members on the committee’s limitations in proposing changes to the document, from the electoral process to government transparency.

With the conflict of interest rules, the committee struggled with what classifies as a benefit or substantial interest.

“Where I’m uncomfortable is where you draw the lines and can you draw the lines,” committee member Mike Yawn said.

“I think it needs to be addressed,” Daugette said. “But I’m not the one sitting here in 48 hours, putting this on a piece of paper that I’m going to hold somebody to the fire to.”

The committee is still waiting to make a decision on Section 2.01, which deals with signing a petition for annexation. It is unclear if property owners who are not registered to vote can sign the petition for annexation. This was an item originally tagged by Escobedo in an earlier meeting.

The committee also voted to eliminate Section 4.12 on employee grievances, which allows all city employees to appeal to council to resolve grievances of personnel matters after first appealing to the city manager.

Tonight is supposed to be the committee’s final meeting before presenting recommendations to City Council on June 18. The committee discussed addressing council in a workshop prior to the regular session, and possibly coming back for a second workshop if necessary.

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