Here in the a-hole o' Texas the city council recently passed an ordinance that bans new signs and sharply restricts the use of high-tech digital signs. One of the council members owns an internet website that sells advertising space, and had asked the city attorney if there was a potential conflict of interest.
The CA responded that the question was one of fact, not a legal one, namely that: Does billboard advertising directly compete with the type of advertising he does in such a way that a vote on it would give him a special benefit, or did the councilmember's vote give his company an advantage in the advertising market while creating a disadvantage for billboard companies?
The CA explained that while the city attorney’s office can answer questions about the law, questions of fact must be decided by a judicial body, such as a court or an ethics board.
The CM decided to cast his vote anyway.
The CA informed the CM that the issue could end up before the city's ethics committee.
Said the CA, “If someone alleges that it gave him a special advantage, we would send it to the ethics commission, and they make the determination of whether a vote that disadvantages billboard advertising advantages the type of advertising he do…
“The question is whether billboard advertising competes with Internet advertising. That’s what he had to make his own call on. He evidently thinks it does not.”
I think that the mere suggestion that there might have been a conflict of interest should have prompted the councilmember to recuse himself from the vote.
However, with a political issue that isn't definitive in regard to ethics, how can a public official like the CM proceed? What are the ramifications if the issue does go before the ethics committee and a conflict of interest is indeed determined?