Lisa Keller was at the center of a dispute between her and another board member earlier this year.
But the city of Delaware’s 2nd Ward councilwoman voiced concerns about the first draft of the Code of Conduct for Appointed Officials at a Council meeting Monday. The one-and-a-quarter-page long document consisted of seven standards for board, committee and commission members to follow and a discipline process for alleged non-compliance.
“It sounded like a good idea in theory until I’m reading it on paper,” she said.
Council took no action on the proposed policy, but will gain feedback from the chairman-or-woman of each board.
The policy now contains six standards about members’ professional and personal conduct; respect for process; conduct at public meetings; handling of confidential information; creating a positive work place environment; and the practice of civility and decorum in discussions and debate.
Council members removed standard No. 7 because it was too vague. The standard was the only one written in a single sentence, which stated: “Avoid personal comments that could offend other members or members of the public.”
The discipline process would allow the mayor to issue verbal and written warnings. Board members could be subjected to a Member Conduct Committee to review alleged inappropriate conduct. The charged member would be allowed to bring legal counsel, provide a statement and present evidence and witness testimony. Council may adopt, amend or reject the committee’s recommendation.
Keller proposed a board member should be suspended if he or she needed to have a hearing because it could be a long process. But she was concerned about the point where such a committee was needed.
“We want to make sure that the policy that’s written is making sure free debate is allowed but that certain things that really cross the line aren’t and that’s a really hard thing to write a policy for,” Keller said.
“So I’m almost worried that we are going to do more harm than good by having a policy to begin with,” she said.
Councilman George Hellinger said a board member’s conduct would have to be of an “egregious nature” and a “personal attack.” Board members can disagree with Council without getting personal, he said.
Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle said the city has received an abundance of citizens interested to serve on boards and does not want that to change because of adopting this policy.
In addition, Keller was concerned if the policy would be applied as intended when the “character of Council” changes in the future.
“I just don’t want to stifle the debate that make us so great because we had just one minor issue,” she said.
The minor issue involved former Parks and Advisory Board member Lucas Ratliff. Council members asked for a code of conduct after it removed Ratliff from the board at its Jan. 9 meeting. Council voted 5-0-2 to remove Ratliff with Vice Mayor Kent Shafer and Councilman Kyle Rohrer, 4th Ward, abstaining.
Ratliff was an opponent of the city’s failed income tax road levy. Before more than 60 percent of voters cast ballots against the levy, Ratliff was banned from Better Roads for Delaware Facebook page because he kept re-posting a comment deemed a personal attack on Keller. Ratliff created a new Facebook account to regain access to re-post the comment again because he did not considered it a personal attack.
Additionally, he used the second account to post a personal photo of Keller, where she had drew a unibrow on her forehead as a silly stunt with a friend. Council considered the action as an attempt to embarrass the councilwoman.
In an email sent Tuesday to The Gazette, Ratliff said he disagrees with Council members have who said his removal had nothing to do with the levy.
“As I’ve said many times over, this was and continues to not be about a public picture of Lisa Keller, it’s about a Council and City staff that are having a tough time swallowing a levy failure by over 60 percent,” he said.
“As far as the Code of Conduct goes, I just wonder if Council and staff will have to adhere to the same standards,” he added.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.