Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Ethics Panel Lets Mayor Loan Money to Town

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Ethics Panel Lets Mayor Loan Money to Town

Article excerpt

Members of the state Ethics Commission reluctantly agreed to let the mayor of Rowlesburg to make a $56,637 no-interest loan to her city - one of three contract exemptions that raised concerns with the commission Thursday. The Ethics Act prohibits local governments from entering into contracts with elected officials or ranking employees, but allows the commission to make exemptions in order to avoid "excessive cost or undue hardship.

Commissioner Betty Ireland worries that, as smaller counties and towns continue to lose population and businesses, the potential for conflicts of interest and need to request contract exemptions will increase.

"I just think we need to be careful with these requests. We're getting more and more of them, said Ireland, a former secretary of state. "It just doesn't feel right to me, a lot of these.

In the case of the loan to Rowlesburg, the Preston County town had to make emergency upgrades to its sewer and storm water system last year at a cost of more than $47,000. The bill is now more than $56,000, as the contractor has been assessing late fees since the town has been unable to pay off its obligation.

In the request, Rowlesburg Mayor Barbara Banister asked for permission to make a no-interest loan to the town, saying it would take at least five more months for the town to obtain a commercial loan, during which time more late fees would accrue, further hurting the town's finances.

Commissioners approved the contract exemption for the loan, but not without misgivings.

"I just don't think it's a wise practice for a mayor to be loaning money to his or her city, Ireland said, questioning what will happen if the town is unable to make loan repayments to the mayor. "There's a probability something will blow up down the road.

"It could make it look like the town is beholden to the mayor, added Commission Chairman Robert Wolfe. …

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