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Janesville City Council to discuss ethics policy

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
June 18, 2011
— As the Janesville City Council prepares to begin what could be its toughest budget season ever, its president has authored an ethics and behavior policy that he hopes will keep everyone playing nice.

President George Brunner said he drafted the policy because of recent conflict and conduct, but he would not be more specific. He said some incidents had caused discussions among past office holders Kathy Voskuil, Frank Perrotto and himself.


Voskuil is co-sponsoring Brunner's policy, which the council is expected to discuss at its Monday, June 27, meeting.


"I think there's been questions that have come up over the last few years as far as the importance of having some ethical principals, or guidelines, for city council members and other public officials," Brunner said.


"I think there were a few things that occurred when the question was: 'Should we have something? What do other cities do?' "


It turns out that most cities do have ethics and conduct guidelines, Brunner said. Beloit, for instance, has a board of ethics that oversees its policies.


A policy would help newly elected and appointed public officials, as well, Brunner said.


"It lays out some of the responsibilities of a council member," Brunner said, including that council members be prepared and perform their duties diligently and follow the rules of order.


The proposed ethics policy also contains guidelines on accepting gifts and abstaining from voting. It forbids the use of cell phones during meetings, Brunner said.


The policy encourages members to be civil and respectful and to wait their turns to speak.


While Brunner declined to point to any catalysts for the policy, recent behavior observed includes:


-- A controversy when council member Yuri Rashkin walked out of a Forward Janesville dinner banquet before Gov. Scott Walker spoke.


-- An email from Perrotto that Rashkin later sent on to the teacher's union and posted on his website. Perrotto's email criticized Rashkin for walking out on the governor. The controversy aired just days before the April election, which Perrotto lost.


-- New council member Sam Liebert's decision to abstain from a vote for no appreant reason. The guidelines specify when a conflict of interest requires council members to abstain.


-- Heated discussions, several barbed comments and council members speaking out of turn. Brunner himself became so distressed during a budget discussion two years ago that he threatened to quit.


"We've got to conduct our meetings openly and with civility and be respectful to each other's opinions," Brunner said.


The policy does not include an enforcement mechanism, although some cities have that, as well.


"I think this is a good first step for Janesville," Brunner said.



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