Ethics board is a good start

Minneapolis’ newest oversight body is a welcome watchdog for city officialdom.

After two corruption-related scandals a few years back, Minneapolis decided to create an ethical practices board to monitor city officials’ conduct.

The body is necessary to protect the public’s interest. Still, the public places its trust in many individuals outside Minneapolis city government. That trust also requires investigation of all ethics violations, even those that fall short of corruption.

The impetus for this project was two scandals that rocked City Hall in 2001. Two City Council members, Brian Herron and Joe Biernat, resigned and were respectively convicted of extortion and mail fraud.

St. Paul used to have its own ethical practices board, but the former mayor, the Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, failed to nominate new members and the board ceased to function.

While St. Paul has not had scandals rising to Minneapolis’ level, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, a Democrat, has come under some scrutiny for accepting gifts. Clearly St. Paul should restart its ethics board to scrutinize recent conduct and prevent future misconduct.

There are other officials in the Twin Cities whose conduct these bodies should monitor, and other ethical violations beyond outright corruption require the boards’ attention.

For example, Peter Bell serves as a University regent and is also chairman of the Metropolitan Council. Neither ethics board has jurisdiction over him or other similar officials.

The Metropolitan Council oversees both the Metrodome and the vast majority of the Twin Cities’ public transportation. Given that the current labor dispute between the council and its bus drivers hampers many University community members, Bell is in a precarious ethical position.

Further, because at some point in the future the University may need to renegotiate its Metrodome lease with the council, Bell might face an ethical conflict there as well. While Bell is not a corrupt official, in both situations it would seem he and others in similar positions could benefit from some ethical oversight.

Whatever structure ethics enforcement takes in the Twin Cities, it must have a comprehensive jurisdiction over all professional conduct of all those in who serve the public.