Members of the City Council ignored their corporation counsel’s warning of conflict of interest on Wednesday morning to approve funding in the 2020 introduced budget for four legislative aides.
Council members Al Abdelaziz, Shahin Khalique, Flavio Rivera, and Maritza Davila will benefit from their votes by each being able to hire an aide. This created a possible conflict of interest, warned law director Farah Irving before the vote.
Irving cited a portion from the Local Government Ethics Law:
“No local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he or she, a member of the immediate family or a business organization in which he or she has an interest has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment.”
Irving explained the aides are going to be for specific council members and not the entire governing body. “The four aides in the budget are for four people who will get a direct or indirect benefit,” she explained.
Irving issued the opinion after councilman William McKoy raised the possible conflict of interest issue.
Davila and Rivera immediately questioned the legal opinion.
“No. The law says personal [benefit]. This is not personal,” interjected Rivera.
“This is not personal,” said Davila speaking over Rivera and the law director. She said the law director made no mention of a possible conflict of interest at a previous meeting when the council took a similar vote to keep funding for the aides in the budget.
McKoy said he did not raise the conflict issue during the last vote. He said the four council members will handpick their aides and serve as hiring managers.
Rivera and Abdelaziz said council members will not be doing the hiring. Abdelaziz said the business administrator is the appointing authority in the municipal government who does the hiring.
“We do not hire the aides, we make a recommendation to the administration,” said Abdelaziz.
Business administrator Vaughn McKoy acknowledged his role as the appointing authority, but noted, “It wouldn’t make sense for me to hire an aide you don’t want.”
The hiring would be done through input from the council members. Council members would sit in on the interviews, said the business administrator.
Councilman McKoy told his colleagues to recuse themselves from the vote.
“Tell me. How do I personally benefit from this?” asked Rivera. He said hiring an aide will let him better assist residents with their concerns.
“There’s no conflict of interest under the law,” said Davila. She attacked councilman McKoy at one point because one of his former campaign workers secured a job as a secretary in the municipal government.
Davila ignored the legal opinion and called for a vote. The vote kept $63,000 in the introduced budget to hire aides for the four council members for eight months.
An aide will make $25,000 per year.
The funds for aides was kept in the introduced budget in a 5-4 vote.
Abdelaziz, Michael Jackson, Khalique, Rivera, and Davila voted in favor while councilman McKoy, Ruby Cotton, Lilisa Mimms, and Luis Velez voted against.
“Today I’m voting for what I think is correct,” said Davila.
There were murmurs in some circles on Wednesday afternoon to potentially take up the four council members on ethics charges for their actions.