News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 10, 2012

EDITORIAL: Serious issue of integrity

Commission needs to work hard to restore credibility


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TERRE HAUTE — When the Vigo County Area Plan Commission meets Nov. 7, it should once again remind itself, and recommit itself, to maintaining a high standard of ethics in its deliberations and voting.

In doing so, it should acknowledge that conflicts of interest large or small, or even perceived conflicts, are important matters. None should be brushed aside. The credibility and integrity of this arm of self-government is at stake.

The Plan Commission took a major hit in recent months upon the revelation that one of its members — Norm Froderman — had a financial stake in Cobblestone Crossings when he voted on its expansion plans. Those plans came into vigorous dispute when homeowners in the Woodgate subdivision discovered that changes in the development would impact the upscale housing area in ways they did not anticipate, and that a sudden change of zoning allowed apartment buildings to be constructed stunningly close to some Woodgate properties.

Eventually, a group of Woodgate homeowners challenging the development learned about Froderman’s potential conflict and asked specifically about it during a commission meeting. That’s when Froderman acknowledged the conflict.

The Vigo County commissioners and Planning Department took immediate and appropriate action to stop the development and require Cobblestone to return before the plan commission to re-apply for zoning changes. The stop-work order has since been lifted after Cobblestone reached an agreement with the homeowners group to construct a wall between properties. But zoning issues remain.

In the wake of Froderman’s tardy disclosure and subsequent county actions, planning department director Jeremy Weir reminded commissioners that they need to recuse themselves from taking part in matters in which they have a financial stake or may be biased or influenced by someone or something else.

Members of the Woodgate group, however, suggest an even more aggressive approach. They suggest commission members answer a roll call each meeting that asks specifically if they have conflicts on any matters on the agenda that day.

While that exercise would normally be cumbersome and unnecessary, current circumstances are far from normal. The integrity of the commission has been damaged. This would be one small way it could begin to recover public credibility. It should be seriously considered.