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VOL. 122 | NO. 247 | Friday, December 28, 2007

Register's Web Site Enhances Scrutiny of Officials' Ethics

By Andy Meek

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A few months ago, each of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners' 13 members scored two season tickets to home football games at the University of Memphis. The tickets, worth $360 a pair, were a gift from the school's marketing department.

On a gratuity disclosure form filed with the county in October, the purpose of that gift was listed as "community relations." Commissioners ultimately gave the tickets back, and the episode figured prominently in an October discussion about revising the county's ethics ordinance.

A variety of ethics forms, including ones that disclose perks such as the football tickets, are now posted on http://register.shelby.tn.us/. That's where new forms will be uploaded in the future as they're received by the county.

And that's where, with just a few mouse clicks, voters can gain instant access to data such as who is donating what to whom.

Doing the right thing

The gratuity disclosure form about the U of M tickets, for example, shows that Susan Elliott - director of special events, marketing and communications for the school - sent a pair of the football tickets to each commissioner on Aug. 27.

Tickets also were sent to Shelby County Schools superintendent Bobby Webb and county sheriff Mark Luttrell. Commissioners returned their gifts; Webb and Luttrell kept theirs, the form shows.

Commissioners discussed the tickets at length at a recent public meeting, debating the propriety of accepting them.

"I gave my tickets back because I just believed it was the right thing to do," said county commissioner Deidre Malone.

Voters may find it easier in the future to keep tabs on such gift-giving to local officials. The county's ethics ordinance requires anyone receiving a county government contract, land use approval or grant money to file a statement of disclosure spelling out any gratuities they've given to county officials or employees.

Those are what have begun to be added within the last few days to the register's Web site. And county register Tom Leatherwood said the addition of those forms to his site is only one example of the change that has surrounded his office of late.

"We're actually always adding new information online, usually new data and archives," said Leatherwood, who is essentially the county's official record keeper. "All the ethics forms people are supposed to be filing with the county will be available on our site. We've also got old city directories out there we're putting up on the site."

For forms' sake

The forms available at the register's site include an annual expenditure report for lobbyists, a conflict of interest disclosure and a lobbyist registration form, among others.

Meanwhile, another major change is in the works for the register's site. Unlike the ethics forms, which focus on a certain group of people, this one targets every property owner and parcel of land in Shelby County.

Following a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the county, a vendor has been chosen to complete a county-wide flyover that will result in new map images displayed on the register's site. Using geographic information system (GIS) technology, viewers will have a bird's-eye view of the county once the flyover is complete and the images are uploaded.

Pinnacle Mapping Technologies Inc. is handling the actual flyover and image-capturing operation.

"So, next year, we'll have a new set of 2008 pictures for the GIS section of the Web site," Leatherwood said.

Another big change in the county register's operation has nothing to do with the Internet or technology. Leatherwood's office formerly was housed in the county's administrative building at 160 North Main St., where renovations were planned that necessitated some shuffling inside the building.

So shortly before Christmas, Leatherwood's office completed a move east, to the county government complex at 1075 Mullins Station.

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