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Changes made to ethics guidelines
Officials clear to do business with county
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Forsyth County News

Other action

Also at their meeting Thursday, Forsyth County commissioners:

• Granted zoning condition amendments and variances for KM Homes to build an all-weather walking path around a lake and have two lots within the buffer to revive a “green-pipe” subdivision west of Kelly Mill and Bethelview roads.

• Approved the full comprehensive plan update after receiving no changes from the state’s review of the document, which sets forth a 20-year policy guide for decisions involving future growth and land use.

• Authorized abandonment of county-owned slope easements near Post and Drew Campground roads in return for their value from a nearby developer.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

Forsyth County commissioners made changes to the ethical guidelines for approving business contracts during a meeting Thursday.

The commission voted 3-2 to amend the conflict-of-interest transactions section of the county ethics ordinance.

Commissioners Jim Boff and Brian Tam voted against the measure.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard explained that the changes set provisions to determine if a conflict of interest exists.

“This would be a fairly significant modification to the code,” Jarrard said. “As of right now, there is a bright line rule that prohibits this kind of activity.”

The code currently reads: “The county shall not enter into any contract involving services or property with an official or employee or with a business entity in which the official or employee has an interest.”

The proposed changes would add a method to allow such a transaction assuming five conditions are met.

Those conditions include: “no official act or duty related to the contract;” a competitive bid process; the individual discloses the business affiliation; the person submits a written statement to the purchasing department affirming no advantages have been received due to county relationship; and the contract is not prohibited by law.

Commissioners did not discuss the issue before the vote.

Public hearings on the matter were held in February and earlier this month, when the commission postponed a decision to have more time to consider the changes.

After the meeting, Commissioner Pete Amos said the five criteria are “tough” and allow people to serve the county and hold a contract so long as there’s not a conflict.

“If a person wants to run for office, he shouldn’t be not allowed to simply because his earnings [come from] a contract with the county not influenced by the job he wants to have,” Amos said.

He added that since commissioners have to vote on the county’s contracts, he expects they will still not be able to do business with Forsyth.

Boff, who chairs the commission, said he voted against the changes in following the philosophy “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

He also expressed concern about how broadening the scope could affect the county.

“The way it was changed allows people to have a contract with the county and to have public office,” he said. “I just feel that that’s a slippery slope that’s too slippery for me.”

The only person to speak during the public hearings, Harold Bennett agreed the changes would not benefit the county.

“Any time the public gives up control of the ethics of elected officials, they will lose,” Bennett said after Thursday’s meeting.

He originally spoke at the hearing to shed light on how the changes could affect the upcoming election for county coroner, for which he plans to run.

Bennett had heard from another candidate that the code modifications would make it possible for that person to run, despite him holding a contract with the county.

On Thursday, he said he had heard that person no longer intends to enter the race.

Bennett, who has 23 years of experience in the field, is the only announced candidate for coroner, which will be on the ballot in the July primary and November general election.

The incumbent, Lauren McDonald III, has announced his intention to run for sheriff in the upcoming election.