Wednesday, July 7, 2010
North Carolina Needs More Ethics Reform and Transparency on Statewide Authorities , Guest Column by Cathy Poole
The State Government Ethics Act does not cover NC General Assembly Chartered Authority members, such as the Global Transpark Authority, yet these officials may have personal development interests, hold positions on multiple decision-making boards, and exercise great authority over private and public development, including the use of eminent domain to seize private property; and have access to state and federal funds without accountability to the taxpayer.
Another example of the need for a code of ethical conduct is the formation of a Regional Transportation Authority in the Triad. In 1997, the NC General Assembly passed Article 27, GS160A authorizing formation of a Regional Transportation Authority. The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) and the Piedmont International Airport Authority (PTIA) that began as an oversight group for the airport, have both evolved into facilitators for land-use and economic development. PTIA is promoting the “Aerotropolis” concept, described as “a powerful engine of economic development” and PART has come under scrutiny for coordinating the “Heart of the Triad” effort as a result of corporate appeal. Significantly, both Authorities have used eminent domain, yet they are not subject to an ethical code.
In another example, Session Law 2008-164 H-2318 authorizes the NC Department of Transportation to enter into private partnership agreements for construction of transportation infrastructure but it does not define an ethical standard for the development and implementation of these agreements.
The undue influence of property developers, corporate interests and a lack of transparency and accountability in land-use and transportation planning is not representative of the population at large and diminishes the public trust and threatens private property rights, agricultural vitality and environmental stability of North Carolina .
Financial systems and democratic government are ultimately based on trust of the administrators, and clearly can and will collapse when administered by avaricious, unethical individuals.
The North Carolina Alliance for Transportation Reform (NCATR) has urged the Executive and Legislative branches of state government to modify the State Government Ethics Act to cover all appointed officials, as well as Authority boards, committees and entities with authority over land-use and transportation planning decisions. Alternatively, we have urged the Executive and Legislative branches to enact a statute to require all such local officials and organizations to create local codes of ethical conduct that address conflict of interest issues and include rigorous enforcement provisions.
This ethical policy should include planners for roads or transportation projects constructed through any public/private partnership arrangement (such as under provisions of H-2318), or through any arrangement where public funds are used.
I have repeatedly requested itemized financial records of funding and expenditures for the "Heart of the Triad" project from Brent McKinney, Executive Director of the Piedmont Authority for Transportation (PART), but he has refused my request. PART was the facilitator of the project. They received an NC DOT grant for an air quality study, but he will not provide the study report or funding amount and they received $50,000 each, from BB&T, Time Warner, and Wachovia which bought seats on the Steering Committee in addition to other private funds. I want to know who the other private donors were and how much they paid to participate. Residents of the 53,000 acre area to be condemned for roads and development were refused a seat on the original steering committee. Three residents stopped their request for $2.25 millon in a Senate Bill, but many questions from numerous taxpayers remain unanswered.
Cathy M. Poole, Ethics Committee Chair
NC Alliance for Transportation Reform