Our View: Transparency on potential conflicts of interest an encouraging signBeing a city council member can be a tough job. Especially when it comes to development issues.
Being a city council member can be a tough job. Especially when it comes to development issues. And even more so when such development issues may pose a potential conflict of interest for a council member faced with a decision of whether to approve a proposed development.
That's why it's comforting to see two recent examples of Woodbury City Council members acknowledging such potential conflicts of interest during public discussion of the corresponding items.
Last week the Woodbury City Council voted to approve construction of a 1,500-seat church to be located east of Settlers Ridge Parkway, between Eastview Road to the north and Brookview Road to the south.
Representatives for Eagle Brook Church said they plan to break ground in September 2011.
The City Council unanimously approved the proposed development after a thorough discussion that included comments from some residents who had concerns about the traffic impact the church would have on the nearby neighborhood.
Shortly before the council took a vote on the proposal, City Council member Mary Giuliani Stephens acknowledged she is a member of the Eagle Brook Church White Bear Lake campus and would likely join the Woodbury campus when it opens. The church also has campuses in Lino Lakes and Blaine. Church representatives said they expected to draw many Woodbury residents to the new campus.
Giuliani Stephens did cast a vote in the council's decision to approve the project, but as she said during the council meeting, Woodbury city attorney Mark Vierling indicated there is no legal conflict of interest in such a vote.
Some may say Giuliani Stephens should have abstained from a vote involving an organization which she is a member. We don't have a strong opinion on whether she should have abstained from casting a vote, but we find it encouraging she acknowledged her affiliation with the church.
In another recently discussed development issue, Mayor Bill Hargis said in April that he plans to abstain from voting on what has become a somewhat controversial development proposal for an assisted-living facility in the Stonemill Farms neighborhood. Hargis’ reasoning? He said he helped finance the purchase of a relative's home in the residential development. City attorney Vierling said Hargis could choose to vote on the development proposal without any legal conflicts of interest.
Some may wonder why Hargis would sit out on an issue that has garnered so much attention from those who have expressed support and opposition for the project.
But in a time when the political climate across the country is one that reflects a general sense of mistrust among the populace with its elected representatives, it’s a breath of fresh air to see locally-elected officials exercise their judgment on issues they know are important to the community by erring on the side of transparency.