Garey Forster: The dual role of the municipal councilor poses an ethical dilemma | Opinion
WBOK-AM has asked the Louisiana Ethics Board for an advisory opinion on whether Oliver Thomas broke ethics rules when he returned to his morning radio show after stepping down during his successful campaign for the District E seat of the New Orleans City Council. . The ethics committee has a hearing Friday on the matter.
Since no other elected official is working on the radio at the same time as he holds public office, Thomas’ situation raises several questions that the ethics committee should examine.
For example, should he and WBOK declare his salary as a campaign contribution? Thomas will always discuss political issues that affect his campaign for re-election or possibly another position, such as mayor. Thomas is eligible for re-election and enjoys daily airtime, which neither he nor his campaign pays for. The topics discussed could favor his political positions for his next election.
And should advertisers on WBOK report their expenses as in-kind contributions to the campaign, whether or not they have outstanding issues before the board? Those advertising dollars pay for Thomas’ salary.
It is easy to imagine a host of delicate situations.
Let’s say a group needing to rezone a development in the east side of town – for an amusement park, hotel or commercial property – is advertising during morning driving time. Shouldn’t this group be required to report advertising to the ethics board, since Thomas both represents the East and financially benefits from advertising during his radio show?
What if a developer of a project in Thomas’ E District were to contribute to his campaign and Thomas discussed the project on his radio show without disclosing the campaign contribution? Or if any of the contractors looking for a contract to pick up trash or trash also contribute to Thomas’s campaign, then someone call Thomas’ radio show to complain about the trash pickup , and Thomas forgets to disclose that the contractors gave him a contribution?
Louisiana’s Code of Ethics was first adopted in 1964. As a former legislator who voted for the major ethical reforms of the early 1980s, I know that ethical behavior is difficult to define and legislate. But we’ve probably gotten a lot closer to ethical behavior by detailing the new campaign finance laws.
Who will monitor or keep track of any potential violations? The last time Thomas was on the board, the feds caught him taking cash for a favor. Political opponents of Thomas who might want his current seat or the next position he seeks can monitor his ethics and campaign disclosures.
Or it may not come to that. Thomas said he would end his role on the radio show if the ethics committee ruled against the station.
The board should advise against this strange and cumbersome arrangement.
And Thomas should focus on reducing crime in the city as chairman of the council’s criminal justice committee – and not spend his time talking about it on the radio.
Email Garey Forster at [email protected]