Ethics commission says no conflict of interest

By ANTHONY WARREN,

A one-percent commissioner who was forced to recuse herself because of a potential conflict of interest does not have a conflict, according to the Mississippi Ethics Commission.

Commissioner Beverly Hogan asked ethics officials if a member of a municipal commission could “participate in actions related to a road project located near real property owned by the commission member’s employer.”

In their response, ethics officials said yes, and that “any speculation regarding the possible effect of this road project on nearby property values is not sufficient to require the commission member to recuse from the matter.”

In September, Hogan was forced to recuse herself from voting on funding for the North State Street and West County Line Road reconstruction projects, after Commissioner Pete Perry, a fellow board member, asked if her employment could be considered a conflict.

Perry questioned whether the oversight board could award the money, citing what he believed was a similar case in Madison County.

There, the Madison County Economic Development Authority hired a private engineering firm to conduct an airport feasibility study, while a member of that firm served on the MCEDA board.

A 2006 opinion from the ethics commission stated that a member of a planning and development district board “may not be employed by a civil engineering firm which contracts with the planning and development district.”

Perry threatened to leave the meeting had Hogan not recused herself.

According to state statute, six members are needed for one-percent board to have a quorum. Six were in attendance at the September meeting, meaning no business could have been conducted if Perry left.

Hogan is president of Tougaloo College. The college owns several hundred acres of land that would be opened up for development as a result of the West County Line work.

Both projects are being funded with a major federal grant, and required millions in matching local dollars to move forward.

One-cent leaders approved awarding a total of $6 million to the projects over the next three years, in addition to more than a million dollars to cover engineering costs.

Hogan recused herself, not because of a potential conflict, but because she didn’t want the project to be tied up because of “baseless thought.”

“To me, it’s far-fetched. How can it be a conflict of interest.”

One-cent board members approved providing the match on a 4-1-1 vote, pending a ruling from the Mississippi Ethics Commission.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the one-cent chairman, said the city would also seek an ethics decision. However, it was not clear if one had not been handed down at press time.

 

 

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