Board clarifies conflicts of interest for officials

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2012 - 8:31 PM

Planning commission requested ruling to prevent problem votes.

When it comes to conflicts of interests for a city's planning commissioners, representing another public body is different from representing a business.

That's the gist of an opinion last week from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board on a joint request brought by the city of Minneapolis, its Park and Recreation Board and the Minneapolis school board.

They sought advice on whether their members are conflicted in cases in which the Park Board or school board seeks an action from the Planning Commission. The law requires disclosure of conflicts in cases where a public official's duties involve an action that affects his or her financial interests or those of an associated business.

The board said that public jurisdictions don't meet the definition of a business in the law or in common usage.

That may seem like a common-sense approach, but the question has come up several times at the commission and "we always like clarity," said Steve Liss, the Minneapolis school district's general counsel.

For example, the planning commission on Oct. 29 denied a rezoning and several related actions involving a School District attempt to convert to parking some residential property on a block adjoining its headquarters. Under the ruling, Richard Mammen, the school board's representative to the commission, had no conflict in voting against the denial.

At least one planning commissioner also has raised the issue of whether Hennepin County's appointee to the commission should vote on county-related issues. The city is due to release recommendations about planning commission ethics next week.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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