Five-Year Limit Proposed for Filing Ethics Complaints

Aaron Selbig

     How long is too long to wait before filing an ethics complaint against a city official? A new law proposed in Homer would have set that limit at five years but the Homer City Council put the brakes on the law, sending it back for legal review.

      Businessman and former city council member Kevin Hogan spoke at Monday's city council meeting about changes proposed for the city’s ethics code, calling them "disturbing."

     "Who are we going to protect here?" asked Hogan. "Are we going to protect the citizens' interests or someone who is in violation of (an) ethics statute who has been able to shelter wrongdoing form the light of day for five years?"

     And that’s the way it is now. There is no statute of limitations on when an ethics complaint can be filed with the city. In theory, a complaint could be made about a city official who had long been retired.

     And that is part of the problem, says City Clerk Jo Johnson. Johnson told the city council Monday that she noticed a discrepancy between city and state law while reviewing the provisions of the Board of Ethics.

     Johnson said state statute puts a five-year limit on an ethics complaint, a limit that protects retired city officials and saves the time resources of city staff and the Board of Ethics. 

     Council member Beau Burgess said he agreed with some of what Hogan had to say about the issue. He asked that Johnson rewrite the ordinance to make an exception for “new evidence that comes to light” that a city official violated the ethics code. He suggested that the city attorney be consulted on the matter.

     In the end, the council followed Burgess’ suggestion, sending the ordinance back to the clerk for legal review. Burgess said there was “one chance in a hundred” the city would ever have to deal with a situation where a five-plus-year-old ethics complaint was filed but he wanted the review to ensure the public was being protected.