You have requested the Commission's opinion, pursuant to Section 2-30.6(9) of the New Castle County Code of Ethics, concerning your relationship with a developer who is redeveloping an apartment complex located in New Castle County into a low income housing project. The developer has, and will continue to have, dealings with the County in connection with this project. The dealings will be in the nature of obtaining various grants from the County's Department of Community Development and Housing and code variances from the New Castle County Board of Adjustment. Further, it is expected that a revised record plan will be submitted to the Planning Department and ultimately sent to the County Council for approval.
It is the Commission's opinion that you should treat your relationship with the developer and the project as though it did constitute a conflict of interest and that you should therefore abide by the terms of the Code as set forth in Section 2-30.2(f) which provides:
Any County official or County employee who in the discharge of his official duties would be required to vote on a matter that would result in a conflict of interest, shall abstain from voting, and, prior to the vote being taken, publicly announce and disclose the nature of his interest at the meeting at which the vote is taken, provided that whenever a governing body would be unable to take any action on a matter before it because the number of members of the body required to abstain from voting under the provisions of this section makes the majority or other legally required vote of approval unattainable, then such members shall be permitted to vote if disclosures are made as otherwise provided herein.
You have a relationship with the developer and its principals in the following general respects:
1. One of the developer's principals is related to you by marriage;
2. You have represented the developer in its efforts to obtain financing for the project. However, the developer has retained other professionals for advice and assistance for those aspects of the project which require the County's involvement; and
3. You have a relationship with three principals of the developer (as co-owners of other business ventures).
Section 2-30.2(a) prohibits any County official or employee from engaging in conduct that constitutes a "conflict of interest". Neither the fact that you are related to the principals, that you have assisted the developer in a professional capacity, or that the principals of the developer are business associates in other matters constitutes a "conflict of interest's as that term is defined by the New Castle County Code of Ethics. Section 2-30.1.
The Commission believes, however, that it would create an "appearance of impropriety" for you to be involved in any decision-making process on behalf of the County regarding this matter. See Section 2-30.1. The "appearance of impropriety" would include conduct by a County official or employee which would undermine the public confidence in the impartiality of a governmental body with which you are associated by creating an appearance that the decisions or actions taken by you are influenced by factors other than the merits.
The Commission would like to emphasize that its suggestion that you consider this issue as a conflict of interest in no way suggests or should be construed as an actual conflice of interest. The Commission's suggestion and advice as stated herein is provided for the purposes of avoiding an appearance of impropriety.
This opinion is issued upon the assumptio that you have fully and accruately disclosed all meterial facts concerning this matter in your memorandum previously submitted to the Commission.
The Commission commends you for having the foresight to bring this matter to the Commission's attention in the form of an advisory opinion so that preventative advice and action may be rendered before an actual problem occurs. Thank you.