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Duluth can vote 'yes' to avoid city government conflicts

Claims of conflicts have dogged Duluth city government for too long. In 2004, a city councilor voted to give a nonprofit that works with gambling addicts nearly $150,000 of city money to support treatment. That same councilor was having an affair...

Claims of conflicts have dogged Duluth city government for too long. In 2004, a city councilor voted to give a nonprofit that works with gambling addicts nearly $150,000 of city money to support treatment. That same councilor was having an affair with the nonprofit's vice president.

A former mayor solicited hundreds of concert and show tickets to give to schoolchildren and the homeless, a violation of state law regarding conflicts of interest, a city councilor charged.

In 2006, another city councilor voted in favor of a controversial labor-organizing tactic -- even though she was a union employee.

When that same councilor/union employee voted to approve two union contracts, members of the Duluth Charter Commission decided enough was enough -- especially after the city attorney was asked for an opinion and didn't offer one.

The Charter Commission rewrote the portion of the City Code that deals with conflicts of interest. On Nov. 4, Duluth voters will decide whether to endorse the changes. "Should ... a citizen [be allowed] to request that the Council appoint special prosecutor to prosecute violations of the Charter's Conflict of Interest provisions when the City Attorney has determined that there is no probable cause," the ballot question will read. The council would be required to act within 60 days.

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City councilors would "have to address it. That's what we want," Charter Commission member George Hanson told the News Tribune editorial page yesterday. "They can't ignore it and let it sit there with no response."

Nor should they.

A vote of approval from Duluthians would create a needed process requiring the City Council to act on citizen complaints about potential conflicts. With so much confusion over what is and what may not be a conflict, why would anyone vote against getting to an answer?

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