Bexley City Council members are not done hashing things out regarding a code of conduct.
At their June 26 meeting, however, members tabled Ordinance 13-18, which would implement a code of conduct and ethics for elected and appointed officials in Bexley. Council members said they plan to tackle the ordinance at a date to be determined and address concerns that some members have raised in regard to its enforceability and potential effect on freedom of speech.
Councilwoman Monique Lampke, chairwoman of council's safety and health committee, introduced the ordinance April 24. She said she modeled the legislation on codes of conduct and ethics in municipalities throughout central Ohio and across the nation.
Lampke said she drafted the legislation after being elected to council last November. She said she realized the city doesn't have a code of conduct and ethics that relates specifically to elected and appointed officials.
"Over the past year or so, I've heard from multiple residents that they've been surprised and shocked that Bexley did not have a code of ethics," said Lampke, who is an attorney and professor.
"When I got sworn in, the first thing I did was look for that because at any place I've been employed, there's always been one. ... The only one I saw (in the city of Bexley) was pertaining to city employees."
The original version of the ordinance stated elected and appointed officials should "comply with both the letter and spirit of the laws and policies affecting the operation of government;" avoid conflicts of interest and abstain from matters in which they have financial, personal or professional interests or a strong personal bias; never publicly criticize an individual city employee; and never comment "off the record" with the media.
Council members Mary Gottesman, Tim Madison and Richard Sharp drafted several amendments to the ordinance. Their amendments included making the code of conduct and ethics an official council rule rather than an ordinance that is required to be signed by individual members of council and boards and commissions, as originally proposed.
"If you want to give this ordinance teeth, the way to do this is make it a council rule," Madison said.
Council members also debated whether the code of conduct and ethics should apply only to council members and not affect board and commission members who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council.
"We may as well look at it holistically," Councilman Steve Keyes said.
"We might as well be aligned with the board members and commission members so that there's no question about what's expected of anybody who is serving in an official capacity on behalf of the city," he said.
Eloise Buker, a Bexley Board of Zoning and Planning member, said she is concerned about vague terms in the ordinance that are open to interpretation, such as language requiring council and board members to maintain "appropriate behavior" and avoid any "conflict of interest."
She said she's also concerned the ordinance might inhibit debate among board and commission members.
"I do not think this document is there yet because it is too abstract and it is too long," Buker said. "There is a lot of ambiguous language that will (suppress) comments instead of encourage them."
Gottesman said she believes the code of conduct and ethics in Bexley's city charter and Ohio Revised Code are sufficient and indicated that she would not sign the ordinance if council adopts it in its current form.
She said residents should decide with their votes whether council members are behaving appropriately.
"It's the voters' right to decide who represents them, it's not us," as elected officials, Gottesman said, adding the proposed ordinance "intrudes where it should not on voters' rights."
Former council member Mark Masser, who served for 30 years before retiring in 2016, said he does not believe the proposed ordinance is necessary. He said council members should be allowed to speak freely and debate vigorously, which was the case during his tenure on council.
Masser said oftentimes when he spoke out on an issue as a council member, "the residents always came up to me and said, 'Thanks, Mark, because you said things that I wish I could have been there and I could have said.' "