Reactions of Bradley County Regional Planning commissioners varied Tuesday from surprise to outright refusal to sign forms that would make some personal information part of the public record.
A bill passed in the 107th General Assembly added members of any local or regional planning commission to the list of public officials subject to submitting a statement of disclosure of interests to the Bueau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
Ethics Compliance Officer Barry Woody said Friday his office has received some complaints, but not many.
“A few people are not happy. Three or four said they would resign if they had to do this, but that’s their decision,” he said.
The law went into effect July 1, 2012, but the planning commissioners said they were surprised in late December when they received the forms in the mail.
“This is crazy,” commissioner Tom Crye said. “This would make my personal information public. I’m not going to do it.”
State Sen. Mike Bell, chairman of the Senate Government Operations ComMittee, said the bill was sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, on behalf of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
According to Bell, Ramsey asked for the legislation after his “Red Tape Tour” across the state during the gubernatorial campaign. During the tour, the lieutenant governor received numerous complaints about planning commissioners recommending approval or denial of zoning requests for their own benefit.
Bell said he has not heard from any of the local planning commissioners and did not know there was an issue with the disclosures of interest.
“I have heard no complaints from our local planning commission,” he said.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and only two representatives voted against it in the House. The intent of the bill is to make government more transparent.
“The bill came about during the lieutenant governor’s tour and meeting with business people, meeting with citizens across the state, trying to find ways to make government work better,” Bell said. “He heard from several different people across the state who had concerns that there were certain members of planning commissions around the state who might be using their positions to benefit themselves financially. I don’t think any of the complaints came from Southeast Tennessee.”
Even though planning commissioners are appointed by the county, that authority was given through enabling legislation approved by the state legislature.
The form asks for phone numbers and home addresses, major sources of income of more than $1,000 for the officeholder, spouse and minor children. It does not ask for a specific dollar amount.
The form asks for a list of investments in any corporation or other business organization in excess of $10,000 or 5 percent of the total capital. The name of the corporation or organization must be listed, but no dollar amounts or percentages of the investment need be stated. The form also asks for information on lobbying interests, professional services, retainer fees, bankruptcy and loans.
The form is required to be completed by all candidates, elected officials and appointees. Members of boards of zoning appeals or historic preservation board members do not have to fill out the form.
“This is my last meeting,” Crye said.
Commissioner Mike Graves indicated he too would probably resign. Other members were undecided on what they might do.
Failure to comply carries civil penalties of up to a $10,000 fine.
“We don’t want the possibility or anyone serving, even in a volunteer position, to be able to use that position to benefit themselves financially,” Bell said.