Ethics debate heated

Published 12:35 am Thursday, November 17, 2011

A discussion of a proposed ethics policy led to a heated discussion between two members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners earlier this week and a split vote adopting a new policy that will govern board members’ behavior.

In a 4-3 vote, the board voted to adopt a Code of Ethics based on a draft proposed for local governments by the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Voting for the policy were Commissioners Robert Cayton, Al Klemm, Jay McRoy and board Chairman Jerry Langley. Commissioners Ed Booth, Stan Deatherage and Hood Richardson dissented.

The new ethics policy replaces a nearly year-old promise by the panel to “support ethical behavior.”

The board approved a one-sentence statement in December 2010 that read, “The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners supports ethical behavior,” instead of a more detailed ethics code after Richardson took issue with the policy, saying it was “another tool that can be used by people’s enemies” to trap honest government officials.

Despite his objections to a detailed ethics policy last year, it was Richardson who proposed a more expanded version this year.

Richardson presented ethics policies from three county governments and the sample School of Government policy for the board to consider.

But, he said, each one needed to be strengthened because there are “some gaps that can be closed by an expanded ethics policy,” adding that would prevent “members of the board going out of closed session and feeding that information to friends.”

Deatherage said he also supported a stronger ethics policy.

Booth argued that board members already are bound by state statute not to reveal closed-door discussions to others.

Richardson countered that those statutes currently provide no way to sanction members who violate them.

He then added, “I’m accusing you, Jay McRoy.”

McRoy countered that he had not discussed closed-door issues with others.

This is not the first time this year that the two Republicans have engaged in heated discussions.

In September, a resolution calling for the end of tax increases in Beaufort County highlighted divisions within the board’s GOP contingent. During that spirited debate, McRoy challenged Deatherage, a fellow Republican, to present a 2012-2013 budget with no tax increase, and Richardson told the public that McRoy is “sticking it to you.”

The four-page Code of Ethics adopted by the board Monday outlines the duties and responsibilities of commissioners.

It states, among other things, that county commissioners should obey the law, uphold the integrity and independence of his or her office, avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his or her activities, perform the duties of office diligently and refrain from political activity inappropriate to his or her office.