Editorial: Financial Disclosure by Elected Officials is Needed in Michigan and Locally

June 25, 2019

 

Anyone who follows The Portland Beacon with any sort of regularity can easily see that we normally avoid sharing our own opinions.  This is primarily due to the fact that our objective as a news site is to present the facts fairly and honestly, and to let readers make their decision on what they feel is in the best interest of the community.

 

Personally, I also try to avoid sharing my opinion on most topics on the site, especially those that may be divisive.  I try not to have my own personal opinions potentially sway the opinions of readers, and I also don’t really want to get confronted by a reader who may disagree with me while I am buying milk at Tom’s or coaching a little league game.  In a town this size, I cannot be a faceless writer who posts something then goes into hiding.

 

That being said, there is one topic currently being discussed in Lansing that I do have strong opinion on, and I do want to share it.  That topic is financial disclosure by elected officials.

 

In an article published in the Detroit Free Press on June 4th, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was quoted as saying that as for a proposed financial disclosure law, “I just don’t think it’s necessary.”  That article can be found at

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2019/06/04/shirkey-financial-disclosure-could-discourage-political-runs/1345040001/

 

Our own State Representative Julie Calley sponsored one of the disclosure bills.  In a release from Calley’s office on May 16th, she said “This plan creates a system of accountability that will expose any potential conflicts of interest,” and that “The public has a right to know if elected officials are acting in their own self-interest.”

 

The release also stated, “If enacted, the disclosure rules would apply to candidates and legislators in the state House and Senate, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, circuit court judges, court of appeals judges, state board of education members and elected state university board members.”

 

I believe financial disclosure requirements for elected officials in Michigan is a great idea.  State employees are already required to several financial disclosure and conflict of interest requirements.  As an analyst for the Department of Health and Human Services, I am required to formally request permission each calendar year go engage in any supplemental employment.  That includes running The Portland Beacon.

 

Not too long ago, my wife was an employee of LARA, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.  We routinely had to report all financial holdings of our family.  From our 401k plans, to our stocks, and even our checking and savings accounts.

 

If State employees need to disclose this information why shouldn’t the lawmakers who set the laws and policies be subject go the same requirements?  This transparency is critical.

I also believe this should extend to the county and local level for elected officials.  If a mayor or council member owns a stake in a company, the public has every right to be aware for that ownership. 

 

These elected officials serve the voters.  That is their job.  I truly believe that financial disclosure is right for Michigan.

 

I reached out to a few local government officials to see what was currently on the books on this topic.

 

Tutt Gorman, Portland’s City Manager responded, “I am not too familiar with the legislation you mentioned, but certainly support the spirit. On a local level, we are small potatoes, but we do have the attached state form that addresses campaign expenditures, but as a practical matter, candidates for city council never exceed the 1k threshold. We also have a general ethics policy which would seem to cover most conflicts and concerns of self-dealing, etc.”

 

Gorman provided me with a copy of the State of Michigan's Statement of Organization for for local elected officials.  Images of that form can be found below.

Gorman also provided the City of Portland Ethics Policy.  Images of that policy can be found below.

Portland Township Supervisor Christian Jensen said, “I will need to check with Charlene (Twp. Clerk Charlene Keilen) regarding an ordinance or policy. I believe there are only certain times when a Board can act on compensation.” 

 

Jensen added, “To be honest I am not up to speed on the proposed legislation so will need to review before I could comment.”

 

As of June 21st, Danby Township Supervisor Daniel Platte did not respond to an email sent to him on June 5th.

 

If you have an opinion on this topic or any other local topic, and would like to share it with our readers, please email Jim@theportlandbeacon.com.

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