Editorial: So be it?

Our View

Conflicts of interest are an annoying but inevitable part of life. How those conflicts are handled makes a big difference in how they are perceived, especially for elected officials. In those situations voters deserve disclosure of any conflicts as well as an explanation as to how that conflict will or will not affect an official’s actions moving forward.

Editorial board members:

• Al Cashion

— Community representative

• Patt McCaffrey

— Community representative

• Bryce Jacobson

— Newspaper representative

• Jerry Martin

— Newspaper representative

Conflicts of interest are an unavoidable part of life.

Everyone, no matter their situation, will at some point run into a scenario in which the interests of one facet of their life create the possibility of corrupting the motivation they have for making a decision involving the interests of another facet of their life.

Note the word “possibility” in the last sentence.  The presence of a conflict of interest is in no way paramount to the presence of impropriety, and the editorial board doesn’t want to imply so.

Like the beginning of this piece stated, conflicts of interest are something everyone deals with, especially in a small town when residents are more apt to be involved with several community or government organizations. 

These conflicts can come in many shapes and sizes. Some involve board member making decisions that impact other boards or organizations they are also involved with.

Others happen when one family member is in a position of authority over another. Still another example could be when a board member is involved in making a decision that impacts a business he or she is associated with.

The list of possibilities is endless.

However, the editorial board believes it is the way in which these situations are handled, especially when it comes to elected officials, that makes the difference between a harmless overlapping of interests and something far more sinister.

The first step toward handling a conflict of interest properly involves disclosure. Often times just making the conflict known goes a long way toward preventing voters from feeling like they have been duped.

In 2010 when it came to light that members of the Colorado Public Utility Commission had consulted with Xcel Energy when drafting parts of the Clean Air-Clean Jobs bill, a bill that Xcel would profit greatly from, citizens in Northwest Colorado felt like they had been grifted.

And rightfully so.

The PUC members involved indeed seemed to act dishonestly, in part because they did not disclose the conflict, making it look more like an under-the table deal.

However as was the case in 2010, disclosure isn’t the only necessary step when handling a conflict of interest as an elected official, however. The next step involves deciding on the appropriate response to the conflict.

Sometimes, the correct response is to step away from the decision in question, to recues oneself from a vote, deliberation or bid process in order to prevent even the appearance of impropriety.

This was what the PUC members caught in the conflict should have done in 2010.

Other times, this isn’t necessary, but in those cases voters deserve to know why the elected official decided to stay involved with the decision making process. Simply stating that a conflict of interest may exist but that you don’t care enough to deal with it is an insult to voters, to say the least.

The editorial board hopes that our local elected officials keep this in mind, especially as we move through this election season.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.