Nathan Stubbs

Ethics rules may not yet apply to local boards

by Nathan Stubbs

New rules requiring financial disclosure for certain boards and commissions may not apply in Lafayette Parish after all. At least, not yet. In a memo sent out May 14, the day before the May 15 deadline for the first financial disclosure reports, Lafayette City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger says Lafayette Parish now appears to be exempt from the rules because of an exemption for parishes with populations under 200,000. Based on recent census estimates, the new ethics rules were originally expected to apply locally. However, Ottinger’s recent memo says his staff has confirmed with state Ethics Board attorneys that, based on the last official Federal census in 2000, Lafayette is under the 200,000 population threshold and therefore local boards should be exempt from the disclosure requirements. (The exemption does not apply to local elected officials.) That would clear local board and commission members from filing financial disclosure reports until 2010 Census numbers become official. (In 2000, the Federal Census recorded Lafayette Parish’s population as 190,503). “Please note that this does not represent a formal opinion of the Board of Ethics,” Ottinger’s memo cautions, “but does in fact appear to address the questions that have been presented by certain individuals who are affiliated with various boards and commissions in Lafayette.”

As part of an ethics reform package passed last year, the state legislature extended financial disclosure requirements to any local board or commission that “has the authority to expend, disperse, or invest ten thousand dollars or more of funds in a fiscal year,” with the sole exemption being boards in parishes with populations under 200,000. Ottinger and his staff issued a slew of memos on the issue last summer, noting that the state had yet to provide clear, detailed answers on all that would be required in the disclosure reports.

The law states local board members and their spouses have to disclose income range and “amount of interest” for each business in which they own more than 10 percent. Members also faced a June 30, 2008 deadline to resign before they would become subject to the new rules. Due to the uncertainties, Lafayette Parish saw a total of 58 resignations from 21 local boards and commissions, including the Lafayette Airport Commission, the Bayou Vermilion District, the Lafayette Public Library board and the Lafayette Convention and Visitors’ Commission.