A month after hearing, commission ends practice
From now on, the only personal information Union County will collect from potential volunteers is their name and address. After months of discussion, public hearings and disagreements, county commissioners eliminated conflict of interest forms at their Monday, March 7 meeting by a 3-2 vote. Opponents of the move argued that it was a step in the wrong direction.
“This action will eliminate transparency,” Commissioner Kim Rogers said. “More counties are moving towards disclosure forms. There’s no harm in it and it provides a sense of openness.”
Previously, the forms required any applicant to the county’s planning board or board of adjustment to list all the properties they own or have an interest in. They did not require anyone to detail property belonging to family members. The forms were similar to the ones county commissioners must fill out when they take office, although the county version is more detailed.
“We want to have open and transparent government,” county resident Liza Kravis said during public comments. She talked about going to a meeting of the planning board eight years ago, to see a developer on the board vote in support of his own project.
Other commissioners argued the forms didn’t actually achieve what the previous board set it out to do, when they created the idea.
“It was flawed from the get go,” Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said. “If it was that important, it should have been applied to all boards. (Plus) there’s no teeth to it.”
Commissioner Tracy Kuehler said the previous board majority had made the forms a requirement for the volunteer committees with voting power.
“We applied it to the boards that made decisions,” Kuehler said. “Each of us fills out a disclosure form, it’s a push toward heightened awareness.”
The forms hadn’t been a deterrent to people applying to serve on committees, Kuehler added, stating that multiple applicants had sent in documents for the open spots on both boards. Other commissioners just didn’t see the point of keeping the requirements around.
“This isn’t a conflict of interest form, it’s a holdings form,” Commissioner Todd Johnson said, also saying that having a form wasn’t going to stop a volunteer from doing something. “Forms don’t make people honest,” he said.