By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Candidates running for city council in Midwest City will need to provide information about employment and business dealings to prevent potential conflicts of interest.
The city council last week approved an ordinance that will require all candidates to complete a questionnaire about potential conflicts of interest with any current contracts with the city.
The questionnaire includes three questions:
• Are you employed? If yes, please state the name of your employer.
• Do you have any contracts with the City of Midwest City?
• Do you or your spouse have 25% or more ownership in any business? If yes, please state the name of the business.
The additional information will be filed with the City Clerk. The city cannot require the county election board secretary to handle the additional task.
Midwest City has scheduled city council elections for Wards 2, 3, 4 and 6 next year. The primary election is set for Feb. 13 with a general election April 2 (if necessary).
The city added the additional questionnaire after recent concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving a former councilmember. Former Ward 3 councilwoman Megan Bain resigned due to concerns about potential conflict of interest between her role as a councilmember and her employment with the Mid-Del Technology Center, which is part of the Mid-Del School District.
City officials believe the situation could possibly create a conflict of interest and jeopardize agreements between the city and school district, both current and future. The city’s legal staff researched the issue and later received a legal opinion from a private law firm.
Midwest City officials pointed to a contract with Mid-Del Schools for school resource officers, which they said could’ve been jeopardized.
At the Nov. 14 council meeting, councilwoman Sara Bana asked if any Mid-Del School District employee could serve on the council without creating a conflict of interest. City Attorney Don Maisch said the new ordinance would not prohibit anyone from running but said any potential conflicts would need to be taken on a “case by case” basis.
“It gives the city the information to say if this person does file for office and if this person is elected it could impact contracts with outside vendors, some of those being the Mid-Del School District,” he said.
Bana later asked if the questionnaire would help address the core issues. She said the outside law firm hired by the city studied the issue and produced two contradicting legal opinions.
“What we’re doing here is an attempt to create unnecessary policies that don’t address the core problem and we are trying to maneuver around the Attorney General,” she said.
Mayor Matt Dukes agreed that there are contradicting opinions and said that’s exactly why the city is asking the
Attorney General to weigh in on the matter. He argued that the city is being transparent in the process.
“If the AG comes down and says Midwest City, you’re all wrong then we’ll go back and undo it,” he said. “But we’re trying to be proactive to prevent any further issues for our city and the election process.”
Dukes said the city’s charter is also a source of confusion on the matter. The charter says that “No officer or employee of the city, elective or appointed, shall be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract….” Dukes says the terms “indirectly and directly” are unclear.
Bana says the state constitution and an AG’s opinion would override the city charter. She further questioned when the city will have a question for the AG finalized and submitted.
“I’ve heard that the question is in the works. It was my understanding that the question was in the works somewhere around June,” Bana said. “Do we have a deadline or a timeframe when the question will be finalized and maybe a deadline of when we hope we’ll have this submitted to the Attorney General?”
Bana asked that the city publicize ethics reports filed by candidates and set a deadline for a request to be submitted to the Attorney General’s office. The motion died after failing to get a second. Other councilmembers said they shared many of Bana’s concerns but did not believe the city has the answers at this point.
“I don’t disagree with some of the stuff that you’re saying but I think you’re bringing outside stuff that doesn’t pertain to this exact thing,” said councilman Sean Reed. “We have an election coming up and I think doing right by the people that are getting ready to run and to our voters is way more important than trying to reargue what happened unfortunately to Mrs. Bain having to step down. They’re two separate issues.”
Councilwoman Susan Eads echoed those thoughts.
“I don’t disagree with Mrs. Bana’s commentary it’s just not germane to where we’re going at this time because we can’t dictate the answer and the processes being utilized.”
The ordinance passed 6-1 with an emergency clause that makes it effective immediately. Bana cast the only no vote.