A few years ago Provo was the epicenter of ethics complaints against elected officials. Because of that problem the state Legislature passed laws creating a state commission to hear such complaints and an option for cities to create their own.
Now Provo is trying to decide whether it wants to create its own commission for ethics complaints against city officials. It also has options to join a commission with some other Utah County cities or to stick with the state. The council will vote on the issue in two weeks.
Before the state passed the two laws, cities were on their own when in came to ethics complaints. Provo Mayor John Curtis said he had to figure out how to resolve two ethics complaints in the city — one against former councilman Steve Turley, and one against himself.
Turley ended up resigning and being charged with crimes; his case is pending in the courts but most of the charges have been dismissed. Mayor Curtis was accused of ethics violations involving property he owned in a Provo business park; an investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
One of the pros of joining a local commission — made up of city attorneys — would be that the members might be able to handle complaints more quickly and be more “culturally in tune” with the area, said Councilman David Sewell. On the other hand, they may also know the people involved and have to recuse themselves from an investigation.
The state commission is more diverse in its membership; the law specifies who members should be, including a former judge and former mayor or councilman. That diversity in membership is a plus, Sewell said, and it’s already set up and ready to hear complaints. It’s also the lowest-cost option for Provo.
In May Springville decided against joining a local commission with Pleasant Grove, Spanish Fork and Payson, opting instead to let the state commission hear such complaints. That city hasn’t dealt with an ethics complaint in about 15 years.