Interacting with the County ACE Commission Concerning a Conflict of Interest Matter
I filed a complaint concerning Luzerne County Council member James Bobeck in early January of this year which was received by the county Accountability, Conduct and Ethics (ACE) Commission on January 9th. The commission replied to me with their findings by land mail on March 16th, and I have some questions about their response. Where is a copy of Mr. Bobeck’s alleged letter to the State Ethics Commission? Why no documented response from the State Ethics Commission? Also, will anyone kindly identify the “Acting Luzerne County Solicitor” mentioned in the commission’s findings below, and release the legal rationale behind that opinion.
The commission’s decision was made privately on February 21st:
ACE COMMISSION finds no reason to believe that violation occurred; complaint dismissed.
The following is the ACE Commission response mailed to me.
Nature of Complaint: Violation of the Ethics Code [Section] 103.02[Complaint number 2013.1] Respondent [Luzerne County Council member James Bobeck] voted on the 2013 Luzerne County Budget which contained funds budgeted for a contract between Luzerne County and Step By Step, Inc., a company that is led by and that employs Respondent’s father.
Section 103.02 General Ethical Obligations
A. All Covered Persons will be held accountable for adherence to the standards set forth in the Ethics Code. In matters of ethical dilemmas and conduct not covered under this Code, all Covered Persons are expected always to reflect on and serve what they believe to be in the public interest and not to serve personal interests and gain.
B. All Covered Persons are subject to and are expected to be familiar with the Ethics Code and with the Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Law, Act 93, Chapter 11, of 1998.
The ACE Commission received this complaint on 01/09/2013 [and made a final determination on February 21st]. The substance of the complaint is that Respondent voted on the 2013 Luzerne County Budget which contained funds budgeted for a contract between Luzerne County and Step By Step, Inc., a company that is led by and that employs Respondent’s father.
The ACE Commission makes the following findings:
1. In January of 2012, Respondent made a written request of the State Ethics Commission seeking an advisory opinion as to whether it would be a violation of the Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Law if he voted on the 2012 Luzerne County Budget which contained funds budgeted for a contract between Luzerne County and Step By Step, Inc., a company that is led by and that employs Respondent’s father.
2. Respondent did not receive the requested advisory opinion from the State Ethics Commission.
3. Respondent did vote on the 2012 Luzerne County Budget.
4. With respect to the 2013 Luzerne County Budget, Respondent inquired of the Acting Luzerne County Solicitor as to whether a vote by Respondent on the 2013 Luzerne County Budget would constitute a conflict of interest or would otherwise be impermissible.
5. The Acting Luzerne County Solicitor did not provide Respondent with a legal opinion on the matter but did express his personal view that such a vote did not appear to be a conflict of interest.
6. Respondent did vote on the 2013 Luzerne County Budget.
7. The actions of Respondent that are the subject of this Complaint do not constitute a violation of the Ethics Code.
Having made the determination that there was no violation of the Ethics Code, the members of the ACE Commission, nonetheless, recommend to Respondent that, until the State Ethics Commission provides a legal opinion on the matter, Respondent should publicly disclose the nature of his father’s involvement with Step By Step, Inc. prior to voting on any Luzerne County Budget that contains funds budgeted for a contract between Luzerne County and Step By Step, Inc.
Vote of Commission
|Dr. Margaret M. Hogan, Chair||Yes|
|Dr. Vito A. Forlenza, Vice Chair||Yes|
|Atty. Stefanie J. Salavantis, District Attorney||Yes|
|Mr. Michael Giamber (designee for Controller Griffith)||No|
|Mr. Paul Keating (designee for County Manager)||Absent|
Mr. Walter L. Griffith, Jr., Controller (recused)
Mr. Robert C. Lawton, County Manager (recused)
Atty. Brian A. Bufalino, Solicitor
This letter was signed by Dr. Hogan and dated March 12, 2013
I am concerned and am seriously questioning the non-transparent actions of council member James Bobeck. The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission must formally respond to requests and complaints. I cannot believe the State Ethics Commission would not formally respond to an elected official’s request for an advisory opinion! It is my understanding that they publish advisory opinions.
Why did they not formally respond? Where is Mr. Bobeck’s letter to the state commission?
I believe Mr. Bobeck bore a public obligation to the citizens and voters of Luzerne County to request the county council’s solicitor to state at a council meeting the ethical and proper action. This should all be a matter of public record. Councilman Bobeck had many opportunities to recuse himself when I repeatedly asked him to do so prior to voting on both the 2012 and 2013 Luzerne County Budgets. I made these appeals at the public county council meetings during the time given for public comment.
Mr. Bobeck’s private side conversations are not open and transparent government actions. The citizens of Luzerne County deserve an honest and open forum—Councilman Bobeck must produce his letter requesting the state’s advisory opinion.
State Ethics Advisory opinions become a matter of public record and are posted for public review. Moreover, any Luzerne County Solicitor opinion on an important budget vote should be made at public meeting. Luzerne County Home Rule government requires transparency, and not secret political deals and conversations.
Are we really headed in the right direction for better government in Luzerne County?