Code of conduct process works in Sussex
Heading into the new year, Sussex County Council will take another look at its code of conduct. Several residents questioned ethics and conflicts of interest of some of the candidates during this year's Republican primary.
But that's nothing new. Complaints have been made over the years about elected officials who are in the building trade or sell real estate and vote on housing land-use applications. In all cases, no conflict of interest has ever been found.
The residents who were questioning officials' actions are also requesting that the county consider an updated code of conduct especially for Sussex officials.
The county has always followed the state code of conduct, which includes rulings and guidance from the state's Public Integrity Commission.
At their final meeting of 2022, county council members were given a detailed review of the code of conduct, including a list of possible actions, such as more ethics training for staff and officials.
County Administrator Todd Lawson and county attorney J. Everett Moore both pointed out the advantages of maintaining the status quo and discussed some of the issues to be confronted should council decide to create its own code of conduct and its own integrity commission.
Near the top of the list would be additional costs footed by county taxpayers. Although on a larger scale, New Castle County budgets $340,000 for its program and its own integrity commission.
Moore said the current process works, and rulings are timely by the Public Integrity Commission when complaints are filed or guidance is requested.
In other words, if it's not broken, why fix it?
The state integrity commission has no real ties to Sussex County; it rules as an independent commission. That's the way it should be.
Council can adopt its own code of conduct and still use the state's integrity commission, which would reduce, but not eliminate, additional legal costs.
But we agree with Council President Mike Vincent, who said, “I don’t see why we need our own commission. Why should we create another form of government at a cost to taxpayers?”
It makes sense to increase awareness of the code of conduct to all county employees, elected officials and appointees, not to start over and re-create a process that works.
On a side note, it's not unusual for county planning and zoning commissioners, and at times council members, to recuse themselves from hearing an application to avoid any possible conflicts of interest. Although they are not required to give a reason for recusal, we think giving one increases transparency and is a great service to their constituents.