Saturday, March 22, 2014

City Election Double Standards

City Ordinance 38.023 (b)(1) (A)(B) states: Candidates shall file a statement of financial interest within 15 days after filing nomination petitions.

An article in the 3/22/14 edition of the ARGUS LEADER reported on mayoral and city council candidates financial income. What's pretty clear from the article is there are no standards in the city clerk's office when it comes to filling out the statement of financial interest. It looks like the candidates can put down pretty much any version they want when it comes to answering the financial disclosure.

Here's what the statement of financial interest form actually asks each candidate to provide:

List any enterprise which accounted for more than 10 percent of, or contributed more than $2,000 to, your family's (including spouse, minor children living at home) gross income in the preceding calendar year. Identify who receives the income from each enterprise. What is the nature of your immediate family's association with each? The value of the financial interest need not be reported.

List any enterprise in which you, your spouse, or minor children living at home control more than 10 percent of the capital or stock. Identify who has the ownership interest in each enterprise. What is the nature of your immediate family's association with each?

Evidently there is no penalty for omissions as long as it's not intentional. How the city attorney/city clerk office would determine what is intentional deception or stupidity is unclear. Both Huether and Erpenbach forgot to list their city salaries and Pierson didn't list any income at all.

Every single candidate listed specific employment or names of investments except for Huether and Pierson. Pierson stated zero to each of the questions above which should have prompted a question from the city clerk's office. Huether listed his financial interests in vague terms: "mutual funds, stocks, bonds, investment property, ethanol, municipal bonds, money markets, annuities, IRAs. The dividends, interest or capital gains are paid to Mike and/or Cindy Huether, my spouse."

Schwan attached 5 pages specifically identifying her investments and the type of investment. The ARGUS LEADER reported that "Schwan asked Hogstad (City Clerk) for guidance and was told she should list each bond." Schwan stated, "I wanted to make sure I was in complete compliance with the statement of financial interest." 

As long as the candidate meets the requirements of the law, their forms are accepted,” Hogstad said. “They can add more detail or specifics if they wish.”
There must be reason for asking each candidate to disclose any financial matter that accounts for 10% or contributed more than $2,000 to their gross income. It's a mystery that the city asks for it but doesn't seem to care how a candidate completes the form. It seems there is no standard  for the candidate's Statement of Financial Interest. Doesn't anyone in the City Clerk's office review the statement submissions for compliance or completeness? How about the City Attorney reviewing the documents for compliance? What's the purpose of letting the candidate decide what he/she interprets as compliance? It seems like no one is minding the store when it comes to election compliance.

It is refreshing to see we have council candidate who takes the statement of financial interest seriously and wants to be in compliance. The current mayor and city councilors could take a page from Candidate Schwan's ethics book.

What is a real double standard is the fact that the city expects candidates for public office to disclose their income and investments for not only themselves but also their spouse and minors living in their home but once they get in office, the ethics and conflict of interest ordinances only speak to the elected official and don't give a rip about the spouse.

Once again, we must ask where is the transparency of our elected officials and ask why there seems to be such a lack of interest in disclosing their financial information. I don't know if it is intentional deception or stupidity but in either case it is not a trait worthy of getting my vote and shouldn't be worthy of your vote. We can do better. We should expect better and we should never accept these examples of a double standard in financial disclosure.

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