The four people who would choose who serves on the Ethics Commission have changed, but New Albany City Councilman John Gonder said the reason for utilizing non-elected officials to form such a committee remains the same.
“The whole idea is to put a wall between politics” and the decisions of the ethics commission, Gonder said during a recent council work session on the matter.
Gonder is sponsoring an ordinance that would form the city’s first ethics commission to review complaints against municipal workers and officials. The proposal was tabled in April so work sessions could be held.
Initially, the president of the Floyd County Bar Association, the New Albany Postmaster, the principal of New Albany High School and the chancellor of Indiana University Southeast were to each designate one person to serve on the commission.
Those four members would then select a fifth person with the stipulation no elected official could serve on the panel.
Gonder said he based those choices on the position, not the person, and after reaching out found that the NAHS principal was not interested and the IU Southeast chancellor unresponsive to the request to participate.
Therefore, Gonder replaced those slots with the executive director of Rauch Industries and the head of the Interfaith Community Council.
“Of the people who agreed to do it, several actually thought being asked to perform this civic duty was an honor,” Gonder said Friday. “I hope people have that attitude whenever they’re asked to do something like that.”
Several questions were posed during the work session last week, and Gonder said some details must be finalized before the ordinance can be brought to the table for a vote.
Since the New Albany Police Department has its own merit commission, it will likely not fall under the realm of the ethics commission if its approved, but such issues are still being considered.
As for concerns, Councilman Dan Coffey said even non-elected officials can still be drawn into political pandering, and that allowing them to decide who sits on the commission may not alleviate instances of favoritism.
“I’m telling you non profits are political,” Coffey said, though he insisted he supports the idea of an ethics commission, but wants it to “be done right.”
He suggested possibly using local ministers for the commission, but Gonder countered there’s no way to remove all suspicions of political bias when forming such a body.
“Let’s draw the names out of a hat,” Gonder said. “Then somebody is going to say ‘who put the names in the hat?’”
Gonder envisions the majority of the complaints the ethics commission would review would be tied to alleged “sweetheart deals” for professional contracts.
As for examples, Gonder said other communities that have formed ethics commissions have selected people such as Chamber of Commerce presidents and the head of the largest private employer in the city.
Gonder said that as evident by One Southern Indiana’s past policy of endorsing candidates, Chamber of Commerce leaders are usually tied to political causes.
One Southern Indiana did end its policy of endorsing candidates last year following area municipal elections.
Councilman Scott Blair said the selections for the ethics commission should be as removed from the political process as possible. At one point during the work session, Coffey asked “does anybody know who the postmaster is?”
Gonder answered “that’s kind of the point.”
Blair agreed with his assertion.
“It would be better if it were people we didn’t know,” he said.
Moving forward, Gonder said the ordinance could be introduced for first and second readings as early as the first council meeting in June.