Commissioner: Conflicts of interest shouldn’t stop votes

HARRISVILLE — Alcona County Commissioner Gary Wnuk told fellow commissioners on Wednesday that he believes it is OK for commissioners to vote on a matter after they have disclosed it as a conflict of interest, even in instances where a commissioner may stand to benefit financially from the decision.

The discussion came up during a county Board of Commissioners workshop at which commissioners began revising county policies and procedures.

Wnuk said that, once a conflict of interest has been disclosed, it’s still possible for a commissioner to “be impartial by doing the right thing.” He said Alcona County is a small community and there is so much that could be considered a conflict of interest. He said he wants to be careful about who is excluded from voting.

“If you elected a person and you believe they’re a person of honesty and integrity, then, once again, they should be allowed to vote,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting. “But the other thing, too, is let them bring it up before the board before they get excluded.”

Wnuk recanted his statement after the meeting when The News pointed out it is against the law, in most instances, for a county commissioner to benefit financially from a matter on which they vote.

However, Wnuk said he still believed, in instances where a commissioner would not gain financially from a decision, that a commissioner should still be able to vote on a matter once a conflict of interest is disclosed.

A conflict of interest exists in a situation where someone is making a decision that also impacts their finances, proximity, relatives, employer, employees, or business partners, according to an essay from the Michigan State University Extension.

State law does allow for county boards to engage in contracts or transactions that may present a conflict with a commissioner so long as the conflict is disclosed and three-fourths of the board still vote to approve the contract.

However, when a conflict of interest is disclosed, the commissioner cannot vote, discuss the matter on which the conflict exists, or otherwise participate with that matter at the meeting.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.