A proposed city of Houston ethics policy would clamp down on higher-ranking employees' outside work, increase the fee and disclosure requirements for lobbyists and broaden the power of, and rename, the city’s ethics committee.
The city’s committee of ethics and council governance meets Nov. 4 to discuss numerous proposals that will amend the city code after a six-month study of city ethics.
No longer would attorneys be allowed to lobby city officials without registering with the city, as current policy allows. The $20 annual fee to register as a lobbyist would increase, although that amount of increase could not confirmed.
Employees holding outside jobs would be prohibited from holding outside employment without meeting disclosure and conflict standards, which is also current policy – although the new proposed policy will be more specific, City Attorney David Feldman said.
“We’ve endeavored to make things, prohibitions, more specific and more clear so that there can’t be any question where the line is,” Feldman said.
He said using a city position to get extra work would be a clear violation.
Texas Watchdog last year reported on a city employee who was hired by a city in Norway because of her access to Mayor Bill White.
The ethics overhaul comes as Mayor Annise Parker prepares to name a corporate security specialist and former FBI agent to the post of inspector general, the Houston Chronicle reported today. Robert Doguim, while with the FBI, posed undercover as the president of a ficticious corporation in a bribery case against city Councilman Ben Reyes in 1995.
Also on the proposal is an enhanced role for the city’s ethics committee, which will be known as the ethics commission pending approval.
“It will have more authority,” Feldman said. “It will have a greater role in our overall policy with the changes being made.”
Because the council committee has yet to approve those changes, “it would be premature to say exactly what those changes will be.”
As it stands now, the primary duty of the ethics committee is along clerical lines, checking over financial disclosure reports.
The new policy would allow more of an enforcement role, said panel member John Jay Douglass, a law professor at University of Houston.
“Our problem has been that we’ve only been doing routine type things,” Douglass said. “We don’t get what I would call complaints or referrals. We’ve limited ourselves to this issue of financial reports, unfortunately, for the last couple of years.”
The seven-member volunteer board is appointed to two-year terms by various community bodies, including the Houston Bar Association, the Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, the Harris County Medical Society and city council members. Four of the current seven members are attorneys.
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Photo of Houston City Hall by flickr user B. Tse, used via a Creative Commons license.