Conflict and Coles

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 31, 2014 07:51 am

Baker City Councilor Roger Coles should have publicly announced during the Council’s Jan. 14 meeting that his wife, Dawn, works for the Baker County YMCA.

During that meeting Roger Coles criticized City Manager Mike Kee and other city staff for failing to work with the YMCA to plan for needed repairs at Sam-O Swim Center. The city owns the swimming pool and the YMCA manages it.

To be clear, we don’t believe Councilor Coles has an actual conflict of interest in this matter.

There’s little reason to believe that his comments regarding the city’s relationship with the YMCA will financially benefit his wife. The debate has to do with the city maintaining its property, not giving the YMCA money to spend however it wants.

However, Oregon’s government ethics law requires elected officials to publicly declare potential conflicts of interest as well as actual ones.

And although the connection between Coles’ criticism and any financial benefit to his wife is tenuous at best, there is a financial link between the city and the YMCA. The City Council’s decisions regarding Sam-O potentially affect the YMCA’s ability to collect money from pool users, since a lack of maintenance by the city could force the pool to close temporarily (that has not happened in this case, however.)

That said, Oregon law, though it requires elected officials to publicly announce potential conflicts of interest, does not preclude officials from discussing the issue that creates that potential conflict, nor does it prohibit officials from voting on those issues.

In other words, the law requires only that Roger Coles state, during a public meeting, that his wife works for the YMCA.

It’s too bad he didn’t do so Jan. 14 because such a statement would have forestalled critics who imply sinister motives for Coles’ failure to acknowledge his potential conflict.

Such speculation, however groundless it may be, could detract from the important points that Coles made during the meeting regarding the city staff’s performance.