Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ethics 101 for Micciche

Former Soldotna mayor and now state senator, Peter Micciche made the front page of the ADN Wednesday in an article that addresses his possible conflict of interest.  It's common knowledge that Micciche is a superintendent at the Conoco Phillips LNG plant in Nikiski and he now serves on the senate resource committee and on two other senate committees that involve the gas and oil including acting as vice chairman of the special committee evaluating the governor's oil-tax bill.

It's reasonable then, that Alaskans might have some concerns of a possible conflict of interest. A mid-level executive for one of the big-three oil companies will now help make the rules that regulate and tax those very companies.

Peter dismisses the idea that there is a conflict and vows that his desire to serve honorably will be easy to track.  He cites the 2008 ethics committee's conclusion that let then Representative Kevin Meyer, another Conoco-Phillips employee, vote on matters involving oil production. If the ethics committee OK'd Meyers, he concludes that they would do the same for him. Meyers now also serves in the senate. The ethics committee cleared Meyers to vote on matters concerning the oil industry, but did Meyers serve on committees that might advance big oil agendas?

Let's take a look at the Alaska legislature's code of ethics:

(1) high moral and ethical standards among public servants in the legislative branch of government are essential to assure the trust, respect, and confidence of the people of this state;
(2) a fair and open government requires that legislators and legislative employees conduct the public's business in a manner that preserves the integrity of the legislative process and avoids conflicts of interest or even appearances of conflicts of interest;
(3) the public's commitment to a part-time citizen legislature requires legislators be drawn from all parts of society and the best way to attract competent people is to acknowledge that they provide their time and energy to the state, often at substantial personal and financial sacrifice;
(4) a part-time citizen legislature implies that legislators are expected and permitted to earn outside income and that the rules governing legislators' conduct during and after leaving public service must be clear, fair, and as complete as possible; the rules, however, should not impose unreasonable or unnecessary burdens that will discourage citizens from entering or staying in government service;

Point 1 is a given.  The rub is that what one person considers ethical, another might find immoral. It's essential to keep in mind that these ethics rules are set to assure the trust, respect, and confidence of the people of this state. I think that politicians need to understand that they have to be reasonably ethically responsible to all people in the state, not just to those who agree with their politics.

The second clause is also open to interpretation, but the closing few words, avoids conflicts of interest or even appearances of conflicts of interest, applies to Mr Micciche.  Certainly, Micciche can bring some knowledge of the oil and gas industry, especially an understanding of LNG, but as a mid-level manager, there does appear to be a conflict of interest with him serving on these committees.  If he pushes forward with Parnell's ACES overhaul, at least 40% of the voters are going to think he is in cahoots with his employers.  The ONLY way Peter can avoid the appearance of conflict of interest is to remove himself from these committees AND to go before the ethics board to see if he should recuse himself from even voting on oil and gas issues.

The third condition notes the difficulties citizen-legislatures have.  It is legitimate to have oil industry employees in the house and senate.  Their knowledge and insight to resource extraction is needed.

Peter dances around the fourth clause.  While he has provided the minimum amount of information in his financial disclosure, to be completely above suspicion, he should release a more detailed accounting of his salary and his stock holdings.  His backs off of his own pledge to serve honorably by being easy to track, by choosing to hide his complete financial ties to the oil/gas industry.

Peter has issues with how integrity and ethics apply to politicians. In the ADN article, he justifies his own committee memberships by (incorrectly) noting that Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a lawyer for the IBEW, served on the Labor and Commerce committee, but then withdraws that statement saying that he wasn't sure if Wielechowski actually was a member. Of course, the truth is that Wielechowski didn't and doesn't serve on that committee, well because in Bill's own words, "I just think it's inappropriate. It raises the appearance of impropriety. I work for the labor union. Sitting on the labor committee, it just didn't feel right to me."  But in his own mind, sitting on committees that will govern the hand that feeds him seems OK to Micciche.  He thinks that can justify his own ethics, we all should, well, trust him.  Who needs stinking ethics rules saying that there shouldn't be appearances of a conflict of interest?  It's not as if Alaskan legislatures have been found guilty of corruption any time recently, right?

That concept is lost on Peter. In his own mind, he can separate his professional life from his legislative life, but justifying ones own honor is not what the code of ethics is all about.

On his Facebook site, Peter slams the previous senate's bi-partisan makeup, which had a republican as the president and a fair mix of people from both parties on committees.  He touts the current senate majority's makeup as truly being bi-partisan.  Well, there are only two Dems that joined that coalition,  and Dems, who account for about 40% of the voters in Alaska, have been shut out as players.  Micciche likes to make up his own reality about what constitutes a balance of power. As long as you agree with Peter, you are fair and balanced.

If you're curious about how Peter and ethics sometime diverged when he was mayor of Soldotna, you can follow some links listed below.

Attempted Hutchings Building/Chamber of Commerce purchase:

May Day, May Day - Corporate Welfare in SOLdotna Day (Peter commented as FromSoldotnawithLove on this post)
May Day Vote Update
Central to the Debate (from the Redoubt Reporter)

The Soldotna Cemetery Debacle:
The Burial Plot Thickens



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