Berea City Hall Photo

An ad hoc committee of the Berea City Council voted Tuesday to review the City of Berea Ethics Code, then decide on the next course of action.

The vote came approximately a month after Berea City Council member Emily LaDouceur introduced a proposal to revisit the city’s ethics code, and possibly initiate a process for Berea to become a Kentucky League of Cities City of Ethics.

The meeting began on a contentious note as officials discussed the purpose of LaDouceur’s effort. Berea City councilman Jerry Little suggested the effort to revise the code was directed at him because of a 2018 incident in which Little’s personal Facebook page featured a reposted meme that mocked accusers of then-Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanagh.

LaDouceur denied her recommendation to revisit the code was because of Little, instead maintaining the city should have a revised ethics ordinance that reflects the values of Berea. City Attorney J.T. Gilbert offered his legal opinion that the City of Berea’s current ethics code meets the statutory requirements required of all cities under Kentucky law. LaDouceur asserted the city’s ethics code should ideally encompass more than the minimum standards required under the law.

The discussion became somewhat heated after LaDouceur asked committee members to voice their personal reasons for wanting to serve on the ad hoc committee. Little and City of Berea Ethics Board member Mike Cornelison said their main motivation was to ensure the ethics code was in compliance with state law. But when the discussion threatened to devolve into a rehashing of past disagreements, committee chair Steve Caudill redirected the conversation.

“We need to decide what we’re going to do,” Caudill said. “If our goal is to look at the old ordinance, let’s look at the old ordinance.”

At one point, Ethics Board member Peggy Baker suggested the committee study the current ethics code, then decide at a future meeting whether it needs revision, and what kinds of revisions. The committee would then pass its recommendations on to the Berea City Council for final approval.

Additionally, LaDouceur has been recommending the City of Berea become a Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) City of Ethics. That effort would entail having the KLC review Berea’s current ordinance, provide training for elected officials and department heads, then help the city identify deficiencies and change its ethics code. The cost would be $500.

Some committee members questioned why out of 380 members of the Kentucky League of Cities, only 22 have gone through the process of becoming certified cities of ethics, with six currently undergoing the process.

Baker introduced a motion to have committee members take home the current ethics code, then come back with possible suggestions for changes, if any. LaDouceur offered an amendment to Baker’s motion, stipulating that the committee also come back and decide whether to engage KLC in revising the code, emphasizing that the goal should not be just to ferret out problems with the current ethics ordinance, but to craft a better one.

“I would like to phrase it in a such a way that we’re not looking for problems; we’re looking for ways that we can set the bar higher for ourselves as a community and as elected officials,” LaDouceur said. “Where can we expand it? Where can we do better? Should we do better?” Baker’s motion with LaDouceur’s amendment passed unanimously.

During the public comments phase, there were mixed sentiments. Jacque Bowling expressed skepticism about engaging the KLC in the process, noting that relatively few cities choose to become so-called cities of ethics. Additionally, Bowling noted that the current ethics code has been intact for years without problems.

Ethan Connelly then addressed the committee, noting that Berea, born out of a moral struggle, has a history of striving to be better. “What we should ask ourselves and our community is ‘Can we be better?’ That’s what we all want here. We want to be better and be the best. While this process has been rocky, it is symbolic of the journey that we all have to take,” Connelly said.

Sierra Marling thanked committee members for taking on the issue of the ethics code and for pushing boundaries. Ali Blair was the final speaker, reminding officials that the effort originated with citizen requests to revise the code, and out of a need to bring it up to date. “This is what we should be doing,” Blair said. “Holding ourselves to a higher standard.”

The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee meeting will be May 13 at 6:30 p.m.

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