The Charlotte City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on changes to its ethics policy for elected officials that include more disclosure on personal finances and greater clarity on what gifts can and can’t be accepted.
The changes were proposed in the wake of the Patrick Cannon scandal, when the city’s former mayor was arrested last March on federal corruption charges. He pleaded guilty to one charge and is serving a 44-month sentence in a federal prison in West Virginia.
The proposals do not contain what has become increasingly common in large American cities: a requirement that lobbyists register with the city and, in some cases, disclose who they meet with.
Charlotte is the largest U.S. city with no lobbyist disclosure requirements. Of the nation’s 25 largest cities, there are only three, including Charlotte, that do not require lobbyists to register.
City officials have not talked much about such requirements. But council member David Howard, who chairs the committee that proposed the changes to the ethics policy, has said it would be hard to define who is and isn’t a lobbyist. Howard said last week that the issue is something the council could look at.
The proposed changes would prohibit elected officials from accepting gifts, though there are some exceptions. Officials could still accept tickets to events, and food and drinks at the event, if the city has a reason for being represented.
The current financial disclosure form for elected officials asks them to list any business entity in which the official or a member of their household is an owner, an officer or a director.
The elected official and his or her spouse must list their jobs as well.
The current form also asks them to list all property they own inside Mecklenburg County.
The proposed policy would require them to list any property that they lease to or from the city, or that they have bought or sold from the city. The minimum threshold for reporting is $10,000.
The officials would also have to report their interests – generally considered stock – in companies that are doing business or trying to do business with the city.
The changes would allow the city attorney to hire an outside investigator to consider allegations against elected officials. Under the current policy, the attorney’s office is tasked with any investigation.
Because the council hires and fires the attorney, City Attorney Bob Hagemann asked that an outside person be allowed to handle any probe.
The change would also require a person making a complaint against an elected official to be identified.
The most controversial item on Monday’s agenda has been pushed back.
The city had been scheduled to consider an expansion of its nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity to a list of protected groups. The expansion would also prohibit discrimination based on someone’s marital and familial status.
That vote is now scheduled for March 2.