Government & Politics

Ordinance requires Ethics Board members to file annual financial disclosures

The New Orleans City Council today unanimously approved a law requiring members of the city’s Ethics Review Board to submit annual personal financial disclosures.

The ordinance passed without discussion as part of the council’s consent agenda, typically noncontroversial items approved as a group. The council’s Governmental Affairs Committee reviewed the proposal last month.

At that meeting, Ethics Review Board Chairman Michael Cowan argued that codifying the requirement in city law was unnecessary because the board’s attorney, Dane Ciolino, had already advised members that they are already required by state law to file the forms. The board voted to adopt a rule with identical language during its last meeting in late October.

Even Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Stacy Head said at the committee meeting that she agreed the ordinance was duplicative. But she said the seven-member board, which oversees the Office of Inspector General and the Independent Police Monitor and is the city’s main ethics enforcement body, “deserves unique and special consideration.” She and other committee members voted to advance it to the full council.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Jared Brossett, was proposed after a Tulane University law professor, who formerly served as legal adviser to the Ethics Review Board, criticized members for failing to file the disclosures.

State law requires the disclosures from members of boards and commissions that control budgets of $10,000 or more, as the Ethics Review Board does. But a 2009 opinion issued by the State Board of Ethics held that because the Ethics Review Board was required to seek permission from the city’s Chief Administrative Officer to make an expenditure, it was exempt. At the board’s last meeting, Ciolino said he thought that analysis was incorrect, saying the CAO’s sign-off on expenditures was a formality. He said that if the city administration were ever to block an expenditure it would call the board’s independence into question.

“And that would be a significant problem, probably something that would require litigation,” Ciolino said.

The ordinance will become effective if Mayor Mitch Landrieu signs it.

By Thursday morning, the state ethics website showed that all seven Ethics Review Board members have filed financial disclosures.

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