House OKs ethics panel for city officials in Utah
Legislature • Bill would provide new way to hear complaints.
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Ethics complaints against city officials could be heard at the state level under a bill that appears headed for final passage.

SB180 would give residents a venue to file ethics complaints against city officials if there isn't an ethics process in place at the local level.

But Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, said he is concerned that the bill could be used to launch baseless political attacks and questioned the measure's timing.

"It does cause me some concern about some of my constituents," he said. "I want to make sure we're not using this as a matter of convenience this session related to those events and allow some in our state to attack [officials]."

Cedar Hills residents recently filed an ethics complaint in 4th District Court against the mayor and city manager of Cedar Hills, which is in Frank's district. The complaint alleged the officials concealed how much money the city's golf course was losing.

The court, citing a lack of jurisdiction, turned it over to the county attorney, who said he lacked the authority to investigate the ethics complaint.

The lack of an ethics process was also raised regarding then-Provo City Councilman Steve Turley, who was accused of unethical business practices and eventually charged with 10 felonies for his private business dealings.

Turley resigned from the council last fall.

"To my knowledge, this is not pointed at any individual or situation out there," said Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton. Cities could avoid the state process if they set up their own procedures.

The measure passed the House 69-4 on Tuesday. A minor amendment was added to the bill, and it must be approved by the Senate before it goes to Gov. Gary Herbert.

The ethics commission would be modeled after the panel established to hear complaints against state legislators.

The commission would meet in private to determine if there is merit to a complaint. If there were, staff members would investigate and report back to the commission in a public meeting. The commission would vote on whether the accused violated ethics rules and could recommend action.

A city council or other officers of the subdivision would be responsible for imposing any penalties.

gehrke@sltrib.com