Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Something to Hide?

(submitted to HDN July 16, 2008)

The recent decision of our County Commission to change their mind on requiring financial disclosures of appointed officials is surprising enough, but their reasons for doing so are mind-boggling. Board members threatened to resign if forced to disclose their financial interests.

Should we not view resistance to public disclosure as evidence of guilt? Are these not people whose resignations we should encourage, if not demand? As Commissioner Henman pointed out, the requirement was adopted specifically to address apparent conflicts of interest on the Planning Commission, and these are obviously the people opposing the requirement. When Dick Klaus says "You get people…on there for years and know a lot about the way (the board) works, you'd hate to lose them" he speaks for himself, not the community. Having personally witnessed 'how the board works' I would say these are specifically the people we need to lose – those that have been there so long they think they can do what they want without obeying their own rules or being held accountable for their actions. If they can't reveal their financial interests, they obviously have something to hide. Throw them out.

Dale Wing's assessment that financial disclosure will make for "an extremely difficult time in re-appointing members of the planning commission" is completely false. Many qualified people volunteered to serve on the board in June and were passed over so that Commissioners Berens and Pfannenstiel could re-appoint their pro-wind cronies – and now they have given these same people special permission to keep secret their leasing agreements with Iberdrola. How cozy.

The County Commission essentially thumbs its nose at state law by de-coupling the oath of office from financial disclosure. How can anyone objectively represent a community's interests in a development of this magnitude when they stand to gain financially from the developer's success? I have no appointed or elected responsibility and yet, as an employee of the state, I am required to make a conflict of interest disclosure annually – in case I might be conducting state research designed to benefit some company in which I hold a substantial interest. Why should people charged with drafting regulations to protect our community be let off the hook for public disclosure precisely when they are in a position to sell us all down the river for their own financial gain?

The obvious answer is they should not. This decision is an affront to open government and an insult to the citizens of Ellis County. And it is further evidence of the complicity of these commissioners in the corruption of county-wide zoning. As if we needed any.

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