Bar Conflicts Among Officials

Ethics rules governing public officials can be complex and difficult to understand. Many are mere common sense, however.

Two Bridgeport Village Council members may have violated one of those obvious rules – participating in votes that may have benefitted them financially. That is a big no-no.

Belmont County Probate Judge J. Mark Costine suspended Council President David Smith and Councilman Ben Lenz from office temporarily, after allegations of illegal and unethical actions were made against them.

Ramifications of that action on Monday were quick in coming. A meeting of council scheduled for Tuesday night had to be canceled because one councilman was unable to attend. With Smith and Lenz suspended, inability of just one other member to attend a meeting means council cannot muster a quorum.

A lawsuit filed by some Bridgeport residents alleges Smith and Lenz voted to hire themselves as emergency medical technicians for the village fire department. Since then, both have resigned the EMT positions.

Conflicts of interest, either perceived or real, can be difficult to avoid in small towns such as Bridgeport. Sometimes the pool of men and women willing to hold public office is so small it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid having municipal employees on councils.

In such situations, the obvious reaction is for the affected council members to abstain from voting on matters that affect their employment, or even the departments for which they work.

If the lawsuit against Lenz and Smith is correct, the two men failed to do that.

Resigning their posts as EMTs may have been a belated attempt to set things right.

If so, Smith and Lenz did the right thing. Again, however, if the lawsuit is correct, they violated the most basic of ethics rules for public officials. That should result in their permanent removal from council.