OUR VIEW: Claggett wrong in flap about conflictsWe may not agree on what’s a conflict and what’s not, but we do expect our elected officials to know what they’re voting on, and to divulge any relationships that could be perceived as inappropriately influential.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
Davison County Commissioner John Claggett fired a shot Tuesday at The Daily Republic, saying he is “teed off” about a report the newspaper published Friday. The news story questioned whether Claggett acted properly when the commission voted to purchase security cameras last week.
During the commissioners’ Jan. 15 meeting, they voted to award a contract worth $8,900 to Aurora Security Products, which is owned by Claggett’s brother, Paul Claggett.
John Claggett did not abstain from discussion or voting on the contract, nor did he mention his family connection at the time of the vote. In fact, he said afterward that he didn’t know his brother’s firm was the one receiving the contract.
State law prohibits an elected official from discussing or voting on an issue if that official thinks he has a conflict, or if he has a direct financial interest in the matter being considered, or if “two thirds of a governing body votes that an official has an identifiable conflict of interest that should prevent him from voting.”
John Claggett said he does not have a financial interest in his brother’s company. We believe him, but he should have announced the sibling relationship. That would have allowed the other commission members to decide whether they believe a conflict does or does not exist. If the others don’t know, how can they uphold their end of the law?
And we don’t think Claggett’s claim of initial ignorance about the identity of the company matters. When an elected official casts a vote, he should know what he’s voting on.
Claggett apparently doesn’t agree. In a Daily Republic story published today, he says “there was no problem with what we did. When you read through the article, you know where I sit. You can take my money and my property, but when you take my character … that really teed me off.”
We have no interest in taking Claggett’s money or his property, and we have not questioned his character. We have, however, questioned his actions. He cast an uninformed vote and failed to divulge a blood relationship with a man who was engaged in competitive bidding for a county contract. We questioned it; he doesn’t like it. Fair enough.
But for anyone who says no conflict existed, we ask two questions:
1) How can a publicly elected official be objective about awarding a competitive contract to his brother?
2) How might your opinion change if you lost a competitive bid to a commissioner’s sibling, after the commissioner participated in the debate and the vote?
To be clear, we have no problem with Claggett’s brother getting the contract. We only have a problem with John Claggett’s failure to abstain. When there’s any appearance of a possible conflict of interest, elected officials must err on the side of caution. Claggett failed to do that.
Taxpayers deserve to know what personal connections their elected officials have to the people and organizations that are competing for public money. More disclosure and transparency is a good thing, not a bad thing.
We as Davison County residents, the people the commissioners work for, want all potential conflicts aired openly so we can judge for ourselves whether our county government is being unduly influenced. We aren’t saying Claggett was influenced; we’re saying he should have announced his connection.
We may not agree on what’s a conflict and what’s not, but we do expect our elected officials to know what they’re voting on, and to divulge any relationships that could be perceived as inappropriately influential.