An independent attorney has concluded Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson did not violate the city's ethics code in failing to disclose that the representative of a developer seeking a zoning change also was a host of an Anderson campaign fundraiser.
City Attorney Wade Hinton hired Sam Elliott of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon to investigate charges of conflict of interest against Anderson, filed by local activist Helen Burns Sharp.
Sharp claimed Anderson should have revealed that Mike Price, who was representing the developer of a hotly contested seven-story apartment complex on Cowart Street before the council, was also one of several hosts of an Anderson campaign fundraiser. She cited Section 2-752 of the City Code, titled "Disclosure of personal interest by official with vote."
That section states: "An official with the responsibility to vote on a measure shall disclose during the meeting at which the vote takes place, before the vote and so it appears in the minutes, any personal interest that affects or that would lead a reasonable person to infer that it affects the official's vote on the measure." It continues, "In addition, the official shall not lobby any official or employee of the City of Chattanooga or vote on matters in which they have a personal interest."
In his report, Elliott said the ethics code defines a "personal" interest as a "financial" interest. There were no allegations Anderson received any financial benefit from his vote in favor of the zoning change itself, Elliot concluded, except for the campaign contribution from Price.facebook
But he noted the ethics code has a specific exception stating legal campaign contributions do not constitute an illegal gift, and therefore, "the allegations raised in Ms. Sharp's ethics complaint do not state a violation of the Ethics Code."
"I realize that a campaign contribution by itself does not create a conflict of interest for an elected official," Sharp said Tuesday evening. "Here it was the combination of the $500 contributions, the host committee roles, and the timing of the votes that suggested to me that disclosures were appropriate."
Sharp said her complaint was not directed in particular against Anderson, who she said she had supported in the past.
"I believe he did say that his relationship with Mr. Price had no bearing on his ability to be an impartial decision-maker," she said. "That is what I was asking."
She said she would like to see Chattanooga adopt a measure used in some other jurisdictions where the chairman of the council or planning board asks members before any vote whether they need to announce any actual or potential conflict of interest.
Elliott's report was presented to the council at its afternoon agenda meeting by Hinton.
Anderson said he was thankful he had been cleared of any allegations of wrongdoing.
"We can now get back to doing things that benefit the people of my district and the people of Chattanooga," he said.
Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at email@example.com, 423-757-6673, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP and on Facebook at stevejohnsonTFP.