You know the old saying, “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”
Well when it comes to the conflict of interest in Johnstown over the new councilman-at-large and his town job, this one couldn’t be more of a duck if it walked around Disneyland wearing a sailor suit and a red bow-tie.
Officials in Johnstown and Fulton County are wringing their hands over what to do about Scott Miller.
Miller, who was elected in November as the city’s councilman-at-large, is also an operator trainee at the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
As second-in-command behind the mayor, who serves as CEO of the treatment plant, there could be circumstances in which Miller has authority over his own job. Essentially, he’d be his own boss.
There’s nothing unclear here. Nothing to debate. These dual roles create a natural conflict of interest. You can’t have a government official in a position to influence his own government job or workplace.
Even the Fulton Council Ethics Board, which was approached for an advisory opinion and has no authority in the matter, determined that Miller would have a conflict if he accepted the councilman-at-large seat. That should be enough authority to show where this is going.
If Miller solely served as a regular city councilman (a position for which he wasn’t elected), he could conceivably claim he didn’t have a conflict because he could theoretically abstain from votes relating to the treatment plant.
But that could involve him not being able to vote on city budget items, the city payroll and whatever other city decisions affect the plant. What would be the point of that?
The solution to this situation is as obvious as Donald Duck’s beak: Miller either has to withdraw as councilman-at-large or quit his job at the treatment plant.
There’s no dishonor in either decision. In fact, it is the only honorable thing for him to do.
The only blame he could face is if he persisted in trying to keep both jobs, drawing out the legal drama, and the costs of a fight to city taxpayers, in the hopes that he could find a loophole, such as exploiting the fact that there’s no local law or rule that prohibits such conflicts.
Good people don’t need a law to tell them when there’s a conflict of interest.
Miller needs to help the city put this matter behind it quickly and resign one of the posts so it can either appoint a new councilman-at-large or a new treatment plant operator trainee. If he doesn’t, the City Council should take steps to remove him, from one job or the other.
As a lesson from this situation, city offi cials need to be more proactive in addressing potential conflicts of interest in the future by creating their own ethics board and rules of ethics.
The ethics board could be invaluable, for instance, in advising potential candidates like Mr. Miller whether they might encounter a conflict should they run for office.
This is an easy fix. A duck is a duck. A conflict is a conflict. It’s time to move on.