County to enforce fines on missing financial disclosures

Published 8:30 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

At the Feb. 14 Fiscal Court meeting, Ethics Commission Chair Rebecca Kernodle said the county has a continual problem of people not submitting financial interest forms.

These forms must be filled by elected officials, board appointments, employees with procurement authority exceeding $1,000 per annum, and members of county agencies with procurement or regulatory authority.

They must be filled out for the prior year and are due March 30. The forms only ask what entities people are invested in, not how much they make, to determine if there’s any conflicts of interest.

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“The method of financial interest forms serves as an important purpose to prevent possible conflicts of interest; it’s designed to protect the individual and the general public,” Kernodle said.

During certain decisions, officials may need to recuse oneself from a discussion or decision if they are financially involved with the topic or organization.

Kernodle said the number of people required to submit these forms is increasing. In 2021, 82 people were required to submit financial disclosures, which increased to 120 in 2022.

She said out of 82 forms sent in 2021, 40 were either not returned by the due date or were returned incomplete. Of that number, 21 have still not completed a form.

The ethics commission’s ordinance states that those who haven’t completed the forms are subject to fines of $25 per day up to a maximum of $500. But they have not enforced that fine.

Kernodle requested help from the court in getting people to submit the forms. She said they could either fine those who did not submit for 2021, and/or impose them on whoever does not submit 2022 forms.

Magistrates said that the fines are very high, and they should look into decreasing that amount. Trille Bottom said that volunteerism is at an all-time low, and they don’t want to discourage people from serving on committees. However, the forms are a necessity.

The court voted to start enforcing the fines for whoever does not submit the 2022 forms. Magistrates agreed that they should schedule more training for board and committee members on the reasoning behind the forms and how to submit them.