The El Paso County Ethics Board met this morning in a special meeting and approved proposed legislation to authorize the creation of an Ethics Commission. The Commission, in contrast to the current Ethics Board, would have the authority to enact an Ethics Code that includes assessing fines and criminal penalties to County public servants, lobbyist and vendors, who violate the Code.
At the meeting El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodriguez explained the details of the legislative proposal, explaining that the residents of El Paso demand more accountability from County government.
If approved as written, the proposed legislation would create an Ethics Commission of 9 members; one appointed by each member of the Commissioner's Court, and 4 representatives from the public chosen by the appointed members.
The bill would also authorize the Commission to assess fines of up to $4,000 for violations to the Code of Ethics, of up to $500 to officials or County employees for delays in providing information to the Commission, and up to 3 months in jail for unauthorized destruction or release of confidential information.
The legislation would also give the Commission strong investigative powers, including the authority to issue subpoenas and offer witnesses whistle blower protection.
El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez said residents of El Paso County have been demanding more accountability from their County officials, particularly after some of them became the target of a public corruption investigation by the local FBI.
"During the last few months taxpayers and the media have been criticizing the County's Board of Ethics because it lacks "teeth" to enforce violations to the Code of Ethics. The approval of the proposed legislation today is the first step towards implementing a new system that will require from elected officials and County employees higher degrees of professionalism and honesty," Rodriguez said.
Members of the Ethics Board will present the proposed legislation to the El Paso Commissioner's County on Monday February 23, 2009 and request their support for the measure. If approved, the bill will be filed in the Texas legislature by members of El Paso delegation.
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Summary Ethics Legislation 2-18-09.pdf
County Ethics Commission Bill Draft 2-18-09.pdf