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UPDATE: Missouri housing agency approves new ethics rules

Friday, July 31, 2009 | 2:34 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Housing Development Commission voted Friday to approve new ethics rules after a state audit raised concerns about conflicts of interest.

The new ethics package requires housing commissioners and agency staff to disclose conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from decision-making, forces developers seeking state assistance to disclose the project's owner and development team, and makes enforcement easier. All agency officials and employees will be required to file financial disclosure statements with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Commissioners and some high-ranking staff members also will be barred from accepting jobs from people seeking state aid. And developers will have to disclose the hiring of former commissioners or agency staff.

The Housing Development Commission uses tax credits and tax-free bonds to help finance construction of affordable houses and apartments. Its oversight commission includes the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer and six gubernatorial appointees.

The new rules come amid scrutiny of the housing agency. A June state audit identified several potential ethical lapses and urged the creation of new guidelines, and separately, the agency's executive director said that the FBI has interviewed him as part of an investigation into low-income housing projects in Missouri.

State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, who is the commission's chairman, said Friday that new ethics policies were overdue and would help restore public confidence in the agency's decisions.

"I think that every day we wait, it destroys and hurts the ability of this agency to achieve its mission," Zweifel told commissioners.

The housing agency approved the new rules after a brief discussion and a request by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder to delay the vote until the panel's August meeting. Kinder, who participated in the meeting by conference call, said he had spent the last two weeks traveling and was unable to fully review the proposal before Friday's meeting. He abstained from voting on the new rules.

"I am not sure they are completely the way we want them," Kinder said.

The housing agency has been considering changes to its ethics policies since 2007 when a commissioner sold land at a profit to a developer who had done business with the Housing Development Commission. But no changes were implemented until Friday.

State auditors found that from 2006-2008, the housing agency awarded more than $100 million to developers with financial links to two commissioners, who have since left.

The study also faulted the housing agency for soliciting $42,000 from companies to help pay for the 2006 Governor's Housing Conference and the 2007 Governor's Conference on Economic Development. Many of those donors had business ties with the commission.


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