A City Council committee on Thursday advanced a measure that will require the city’s Ethics Review Board to submit annual personal financial disclosures, though according to the board’s lawyer, board members were already required to do so.
The Governmental Affairs Committee voted on Thursday to recommend the ordinance, proposed by Councilman Jared Brossett, for passage by the full City Council.
Under the proposed ordinance, the seven members of the Ethics Review Board will be required to submit annual reports detailing their employment positions, business holdings and any income they receive from the state, any local government or from any business interest in gambling. The board is responsible for enforcement of the city’s ethics code, as well as governing the city’s Office of Inspector General and the Office of the Independent Police Monitor.
The state forms, known as Tier 2.1 forms,, submitted to the state Board of Ethics by members of boards and commissions, are less extensive than the disclosures that city law requires of other officials. For example, city law requires department heads and other high-ranking employees to report all income over $1,000, not just public and gaming income.
Both Dane Ciolino, the board’s newly appointed general counsel, and David Marcello, a frequent critic of what he has described as a lack of transparency for the board, both said in interviews that the tier 2.1 form was appropriate for the board.
The issue of state reporting has recently come under scrutiny following criticism from Marcello, a Tulane law professor who served as a legal adviser to the board.
The limited disclosure will be more than the board has provided in the past.
State law, meant to protect against conflicts of interest, requires any member of a board or commission that controls a budget of $10,000 to submit a disclosure to the state Board of Ethics. The city’s adopted 2015 budget appropriated more than $4.7 million to the Inspector General and Ethics Review Board, with about $150,000 specifically set aside for the board.
But Ethics Review Board members have not submitted financial disclosures to the city or to the state, relying on two Ethics Board opinions from 2008 and 2009 saying that they did not have control over the threshold amount of $10,000. Though the board’s budget has typically run well over that amount, the later of those two opinions held that because the board had to seek permission from the city’s chief administrative officer before making an expenditure — which then-Chairman Kevin Wildes maintained in a letter requesting the opinion — it was still exempt from the requirement.
On Thursday, Ciolino took the opposite position.
“It’s my view that state law requires them to file these disclosures,” Ciolino said. By Thursday afternoon, the state ethics website showed that four members — all but Allen Miller, Joe Ricks and Brandon Boutin — had submitted disclosures to the state. The board plans to take a vote on a rule requiring that all members submit the forms during its next meeting, scheduled for Friday.
A proposed amendment to the ordinance would have made it a misdemeanor if board members fail to submit disclosures to the City Attorney’s Office, but the committee did not vote to recommend the amendment to the full council. However, even if that language is not ultimately added to the law, the Ethics Review Board will presumably be subject to state enforcement for failing to file.
Given Ciolino’s stance and the proposal to amend the board’s rules, board Chairman Michael Cowan argued against the need for an ordinance, saying it was duplicative. But Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell said she was concerned that a board-adopted rule could be too easily revoked by another vote of the board.
Councilwoman Stacy Head, who agreed that the ordinance is duplicative, nevertheless supported it because of the board’s mission enforcing the ethics code.
“I do think this is a special board, so it deserves unique and special consideration,” she said.