RACINE — Posed with the prickly task of approving a new ethics ordinance last year, Kenosha Alderman G. John Ruffolo had an idea — have Racine review complaints filed against Kenosha city officials and employees.
If the City of Racine Attorney’s Office found that the claims could constitute an ethics violation it could be passed on to Racine’s ethics board for review.
“My feeling was we would take the politics out of it,” Ruffolo said recently of the proposal.
His fellow aldermen agreed and passed the ordinance.
Since then Racine City Attorney Rob Weber and Kenosha City Attorney Edward Antaramian have been in discussions about ways to make such an arrangement work, possibly creating a system where Racine would send its ethics complaints to Kenosha.
At least one Racine City Council member — Alderman Greg Helding — thinks it’s a worthwhile idea, and he’s asked the City Attorney’s Office to draft a proposed ordinance for his fellow aldermen to consider.
With the ethics boards in both cities are appointed by each city’s mayor, the idea would be to give complainants who feel they “may not get a fair shake” from Racine’s ethics board the option of having their complaint reviewed by Kenosha’s ethics board.
“I just thought we could do something to provide a little extra cushion for people who are concerned.” Helding said. “I certainly don’t have any concerns.”
In addition to providing an option to local complainants who might cry foul if their claim was rejected by the Racine ethics board, the measure would help the city save money by eliminating the need to hire outside attorneys for complaints that proceed past the probable cause stage, Helding said.
“The attorney’s office ends up being kind of conflicted (under the current system),” he said. “Their role is to advise the ethics board, so they have to go to outside counsel to provide prosecution for the ethics complaint.”
Under the proposed ordinance anyone filing a complaint against a Racine official or employee who wants to have their complaint reviewed for probable cause by Kenosha’s ethics board would have the option of asking for a change of venue when they file their complaint with City Hall.
The measure would also prevent anyone who doesn’t live in Racine, work for the city, serve the city, or who isn’t involved in a transaction with the city, as say a contractor, from filing an ethics complaint.
“We didn’t have that in there before. I don’t think it has ever been an issue, but Kenosha requires it, almost everybody requires it,” Helding said.
The proposal has been referred to the City Council’s Committee of the Whole for consideration sometime in the next few weeks.
There has been some discussion that an intergovernmental agreement between Racine and Kenosha may be necessary to allow the two cities to swap their ethics complaints, but Weber said as long as both city councils approve similar ordinances that would be enough to permit the two cities to review each others’ complaints.
With that in mind the two attorneys will have to continue to coordinate, while Racine aldermen decide what they want to do.
The Committee of the Whole could decide it wants to change the proposal or it could decide it’s not interested in doing it at all. The Racine City Council will have to approve its own proposal before the Racine ethics board can review Kenosha claims, and vice versa, Weber said.
“There are number of ways that this could still go but I am comfortable with the overall concept,” he said.
What is the ethics board?
Appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council, the ethics board consists of six members tasked with the responsibility of hearing complaints regarding alleged violations to the city’s ethics code.