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S.L. ban on gifts is still no `wrap'

Almost six months after the Salt Lake City Council concluded its investigation into Mayor Deedee Corradini's acceptance of $231,000 in gifts, council members are still trying to figure out how to ban such gifts in the future.

As part of its investigation of the mayor, the council promised it would enact a "tough" new comprehensive ethics ordinance, according to then-Chairwoman Deeda Seed. Corradini gave her blessing - the ordinance would not affect her, since it could not be applied retroactively.During their campaigns, various council members who were sworn in this year also promised their constituents they would get the ordinance passed.

But the effort has run into various obstacles. For one, Councilman Keith Christensen thinks the council's zeal, while commendable, may have led it too far.

As currently drafted, the ordinance is a broad restructuring of the entire city ethics ordinance, including provisions on acceptance of gifts, disclosures of conflicts of interest and outside employment, applying not only to mayor and council but all city employees and residents serving on advisory boards and committees.

It is those last that Christensen is primarily concerned about. Joe Blow, trying to be a good citizen, volunteers to serve on a committee once a month and then gets blind-sided by an esoteric ethics requirement that he wasn't aware of - he has a conflict of interest in his employment, say.

"(The ordinance) could be overly broad," Christensen said.

But Seed and Councilwoman Joanne Milner aren't buying it. They like the current version of the ordinance and are anxious to get moving on it.

"We need to make this happen," Seed said. "We who are sitting at this (council) table sought this office - we asked for it, we got it. If you don't want it, don't ask for it.

"It makes my blood pressure go up just thinking about those months" of investigating Corradini.

Ironically, given their campaign promises, new council members Carlton Christensen, Roger Thompson and Tom Rogan are proving to be another stumbling block to getting the new ordinance in place any time soon. Having been in office barely a month, they say they haven't had adequate time to look it over carefully and understand all its ramifications, and are requesting personal consultations with city attorneys to get its meaning in plain English instead of legalese.

"(The ordinance's language) is actually quite intimidating," Carlton Christensen said.

Not surprisingly, the gifts portion of the ordinance has received the most attention. The ordinance now in place only prohibits any gift that "tends to influence" city officials or employees in their official duties. Salt Lake County District Attorney Neal Gunnarson interpreted that provision as requiring a "quid pro quo," or some official favor given in exchange for the gift, and declined to prosecute Corradini because he couldn't any find any official actions that were influenced by the $231,000.

The proposed ordinance, in contrast, flatly prohibits elected officials or executive employees from accepting gifts, except for the occasional gift (less than $50) given out of friendship or hospitality. Gifts from relatives are also exempted, as are plaques and other memorabilia and travel expenses incurred during official city business.