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Ethics officer suggests new rules for Minneapolis planning commission

  • Blog Post by: Eric Roper
  • November 28, 2012 - 4:15 PM

Responding to concerns about conflicts of interest on the Minneapolis Planning Commission, the city's ethics officer is proposing new rules that would bar commissioners from presenting projects.

The review of ethics procedures was prompted by a growing number of commissioners who were recusing themselves because they were involved in projects on the agenda. It so irked one commissioner, one-time City Council President Dan Cohen, that he started recusing himself in protest.

The planning commission is the first stop for nearly every major development project in Minneapolis, and its non-binding advisory decisions carry a lot of weight at the City Council.

In what was likely an unprecedented move this June, one commissioner recused herself, walked around the dais, and presented on a project to her colleagues. She is the lone employee of her architecture shop and had received prior approval from the ethics officer.

The city's ethics officer, Susan Trammell, wrote in her review (below) that such incidents should be prevented.

"The research from surveyed development related boards and commissions does support a best practice of prohibiting a local official from addressing a city board, commission, city council committee, or city council when the local official has a financial interest that requires disclosure," Trammell said.

That change to the city's Ethics Code would have also addressed an attempt by the commission's president, David Motzenbecker, to a project to the city's zoning and planning committee this spring. He was stopped at the time by Council Member Gary Schiff, also a member of the planning commission.

Also worth noting is Trammell's list of recusals by planning commissioner, by year:

One of the first findings of the ethics review was that commissioners had been using incorrect conflict of interest forms, which did not disclose the "nature" of the conflict. They have since been asked to switch forms.

Trammell presented her review to the Ethical Practices Board, and will soon do the same at the ways and means committee.

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