Lesson in ethics in Dayton
The Dayton Chamber of Commerce’s brush with Nevada’s ethics laws should prove instructive not only for the chamber board but for all other non-profit organizations.
The Dayton chamber was voting on a move of its offices into a building co-owned by one of the board members, Jo Cole. She voted for the move, even though she has a financial interest in the decision.
The chamber ultimately did the right thing in going back to the discussion Monday night and voting again, with Cole properly abstaining. The vote again resulted in a decision to move the chamber’s offices.
Whether the move is a good one or a bad one is a legitimate topic for discussion. There appear to be pros and cons for both sides.
What’s not debatable is the need for non-profit boards to understand – as well as government boards – their responsibility to follow the state’s ethical laws.
Conflicts of interest are fairly common in small towns. The same people who are community leaders in business are frequently active in volunteer positions for non-profit organizations.
Ethics laws aren’t intended to discourage such participation. But they do require people who have conflicts of interest, such as a financial interest in a decision being made by the board, to withdraw from the discussion and abstain from voting.
No matter how objective they think they may be, there will always be a perception they voted in their own self-interest, rather than in the interest of the organization.
County commissioners, state legislators and city councils are usually well-versed in ethics laws. Or they have an attorney sitting alongside to warn them when they are in treacherous waters.
Non-profit boards, however, typically operate in a less formal, relaxed atmosphere. Ethics laws probably aren’t foremost in most volunteers’ minds.
So the Dayton chamber board got a reminder to be careful. Cole and board president Wayne Pedlar admitted they made a mistake in allowing her to vote, so they backed up and did it the right way.
Maybe along the way they also helped other non-profit boards to not make the same mistake.