A few weeks ago, At-large Metro Councilman Charlie Tygard found himself the featured speaker at a military veterans’ function inside Piccadilly Cafeteria. There, he spoke –– and he also dined.
“I ate,” Tygard said. “Now, whether that was legal or not, I’m not sure. Probably not. Even though they have no legislation before us, I’m an elected official accepting a gratuity for a meal.”
Tygard’s decision to eat may have bordered the fringe of illegality because of a Metro 2005 ethics law, later updated in 2007.
“As it stands now, council members, employees and members of boards and commissions cannot accept any free food or beverages from anyone that has had, currently has or [is] likely to have a matter pending before Metro,” council attorney Jon Cooper said.
Looking to add what he calls “common sense” to Metro’s ethics law, Tygard has sponsored an ordinance that would set dollar caps on food, beverages and event admissions a Metro elected official, employee, board member or commissioner could accept.
The bill goes before the council Tuesday, Oct. 18, for the first of three votes.
Council members, for example, could not accept more than $25 in food or beverage over the course of a year from a single source, under Tygard’s proposal. They could not accept discounted admissions, tickets or access to events in excess of $100 per year.
“Council members can’t go to a civic organization or to a homeowners’ association meeting now and legally accept any type of food item,” Tygard said. “I’m talking about coffee cakes or donuts. It’s a very uncomfortable situation.
“This would be an attempt to put some common sense back into the ethics ordinance, and still have appropriate limits,” he said. “We’re not talking about the ‘Golden Goose’ wining and dining us at Morton’s type of thing. We’re talking about, in one year, a $25 meal at the Kiwanis Club.”
The bill’s language specifically states, “If related in any way, directly or indirectly, to being an employee,” when referring to accepted food, beverages and events.
When asked, Tygard said the law would apply to registered lobbyists who decide to pick up a dining bill for council members.
According to Cooper, an independent ethics task force in 2005 recommended council members accept no more than $100 in food from a single source each year. But instead, the council voted for a total ban of food and beverage acceptance.
Later, the law was updated to include not only elected officials, but also Metro employees and all boards and commissions.
In short, Tygard’s bill would relax the current ethics laws as related to food; however, it would be more stringent that original recommendations.