After several members of city commissions were removed from their positions earlier this year due to conflicts of interest, the City Council has created detailed regulations on who can serve as a commissioner.
The new rules govern commissions that make recommendations for funding to the council. The Office of Cultural Affairs, the Boone County Community Services Advisory Commission and the Community Development Commission may no longer appoint any MU employee who works for an agency within the university that has applied for funds from the commission that the employee serves on.
However, Mayor Darwin Hindman said he thinks the change should apply to private industry, other state agencies and other schools, not just MU. He thinks the council should consider treating these commissions like the rest of the city’s commissions, and require commissioners to exclude themselves from any vote where there could be a perceived conflict of interest.
“We should allow these people to serve on the commission,” Hindman said, and exclude people with “tremendous” amounts of expertise from participating in city government. Hindman said that the changes are “tougher” than what the state calls for.
“What we did was a step in the right direction,” he said.
City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said the rules were passed so that fewer people could be excluded than under previous conflict of interest rules, which he said were vague and could have been used to exclude many commissioners. In 1987, the City Council added a conflicts of interest provision to its city code that did not allow any employee or member of a board of directors that applied for funding through any of the three commissions to participate in any of the commissions.
Boeckmann said that the word “agency,” wasn’t defined and the former ordinance was loosely enforced. The new amendments state that “each academic and administrative unit of the University shall be considered a separate agency,” which allows employees who don’t work for a department of MU that applies for funding to be involved.
“More people are now eligible to serve,” Boeckmann said.
Second Ward City Councilman Chris Janku said that although MU is one of the larger institutions in Columbia, with more than 12,000 employees, there might be other employers to consider such as Stephens or Columbia college.
“We’re trying to figure out how to deal with this because there are a number of large employers,” he said. “We’re trying to create a standard.”