CEDAR CITY – The Iron County Commissioners recently approved a new policy changing how officials accept donations.
Titled the Conflict of Interest Policy, the measure was passed by the commissioners in an effort to create a procedure for taking private donations.
The policy stemmed from issues over an online fundraiser created by employees from the Iron County Sheriff’s Office to raise money for a treadmill desk.
Sheriff Mark Gower had purchased the item for several of his employees using funds from his departmental budget. The commission later declined to pay the bill however, telling Gower he would have to find a way to cover the funds. Lt. Del Schlosser set up the online fundraiser to collect donations to help the sheriff repay the county for the purchase.
Schlosser later took the fundraiser down after the Iron County Attorney’s Office questioned its legality.
“It is the treadmill case that brought to our attention a need for a donation policy,” Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said. “You know that is usually how it works, something happens and then you see a need that has to be addressed.”
Similarly, the Iron County Commission came under fire in 2015 by members of the public after its members accepted a $20,000 donation to help fund the Western Freedom Festival, an event many considered political and inappropriate for the commission to oversee. During that time a private group was formed to scrutinize the commission’s spending for the festival, although nothing ever came from that private investigation.
“The issue with the treadmill brought to light the number of different situations where money is donated to various county agencies,” Garrett said.
To avoid potential issues going forward, the commission felt it needed to bring the county policy into line with state law, specifically outlining when and how donations can be accepted.
In addition, the policy makes the process more transparent allowing the public to hold public officials accountable for monies taken in from others, Commissioner Mike Bleak said.
“We needed something that allowed the public to hold elected leaders and others accountable for money they collected in donations,” Bleak said. “It’s not appropriate for people to be able to donate funds without anyone knowing who donated them and what they are being used for.”
The policy does not apply to gifts having a value of $50 or less, political campaign contributions or solicitation and acceptance of donations for matters separate from county business if there is no direct or indirect benefit to the office, department or employee.
Donations totaling less than $5,000 also do not apply if they are made to the following agencies: Children’s Justice Center, Council on Aging, animal shelter and search and rescue. However, even these departments have to provide a receipt showing the name of the donor and the value of the donation. A copy must be retained in county records.
All donations to any department are prohibited if they would tend to influence an elected leader, department head or employee in their duties and responsibilities. It is also against the policy for public officials or employees to accept donations from someone who is attempting to receive anything in return.
Finally, elected leaders or employees may not accept a gift or financial donation from anyone who may become involved in any type of legal action involving the county – unless a disclosure of the donation, gift or loan is provided.
The policy outlines the process for accepting donations. Officials will be required to submit a donor statement to the county auditor providing the name of the donor, the nature and value of the donation and how the donor would like the money used. In addition, a receipt to the donor must be provided.
The County Commission must also consider the donation in a public meeting before it can be accepted. Thereafter the money must be deposited into the general fund until the commission can budget the money into a specific fund or increase the budget of the deserving agency.
Donations can be accepted for life-threatening and emergency situations so long as the policy is followed, but under no circumstances can anonymous donations be accepted.
In addition to creating guidelines for accepting donations, the policy sets up standards for county employees taking outside employment.
Going forward any county official who is employed elsewhere must disclose the information by filing a signed statement with the County Commission providing the information about their employer. Likewise, information must be filed with the Human Resources Department and the supervisor if an employee or elected leader has ownership, substantial interest or holds an official position in a business.
Employees and elected officials may not engage in any secondary employment that will interfere with their duties and responsibilities in the county.
Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said the conflict of interest portion of the policy keeps everything clean and transparent. He also believes the policy is long overdue.
“We needed this a long time ago,” Brinkerhoff said. “This makes it all transparent so elected officials and employees are held accountable for any outside interests and loyalties. It’s important that when the commission votes on something the public can look at who is giving us money and where we may own interest in a company. Same thing with the sheriff and the county attorney.”
County employees are mixed in their feelings about the policy with some saying it will bring accountability and transparency while others argue the policy was unnecessary as state law covers the same issue.
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