Town approves switching to countywide communications system (updated)By Emily Beckett Published 9:42pm Monday, July 8, 2013
In other police department business, the council reviewed information from the Alabama Ethics Commission and the Alabama League of Municipalities regarding council members with relatives in the police department.
Council member Patty Crocker is the sister of one of Maplesville’s police officers, and council member Hilda Atchison is the mother-in-law of the police chief.
Since being elected to the town council in August 2012, Crocker and Atchison have abstained from voting on police department matters. With only five council seats (plus the mayor) and four votes needed for a majority vote, however, the council had been facing problems with being able to pass measures for the police department.
In a letter of reply to the town’s inquiry about the issue, Hugh Evans, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, said council members may not vote on matters that involve a family member, but they may vote on routine matters that affect the police department as a whole and not the individual family members specifically.
“The general rule is that no public official can vote, attempt to influence or otherwise participate in any matter that involves a family member,” Evans said in the letter. “If the action being contemplated affects these council members’ family member, uniquely, in other words, in a way different that it affects other employees of the police department, the above restrictions apply. If, on the other hand, it is routine matters that affect the overall police department and not these individuals specifically, the prohibitions do not apply.”
Lori Lein, general counsel for the Alabama League of Municipalities, recommended that council members with relatives in the department abstain from votes that may impact relatives’ pay, promotion or position.
Lein suggested approaching each vote with care and, when in doubt, consulting the Ethics Commission.
“Each vote will need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis as the conflict is going to be very fact specific,” Lein said in an email. “If your vote won’t affect the outcome then you may want to consider a completely hands-off approach to the police department. If, however, your vote will make a difference in the outcome then you want to look carefully at what is being voted on and may want to consult the Ethics Commission as to whether a legal conflict of interest exists such that you cannot vote on the matter.”
Moving forward, the council agreed to hold a roll call vote concerning any matter in police department business.
The roll call vote gives each council member the opportunity to vote or abstain from voting on individual measures and places voting responsibilities—including ethics issues such as being related to a town employee—solely on the council member instead of the town.