Conflicts of interest arise on political boards — from commissioners, to aldermen, to councils — when competing goals can make it difficult for an individual to protect the good of all. With local government, this concern can be magnified because local residents are tasked to make local decisions.

In such cases where a real or perceived conflict arises, board members should recuse themselves from the discussion at hand, as is suggested by Robert’s Rules of Order: “Recusal normally occurs when a director has a conflict of interest or prejudice concerning a particular matter. A conflict of interest in any situation in which financial or other personal consideration may unduly influence the director’s judgment.”

Because recusal is at the discretion of the individual board member — unless statutory, it cannot be compelled by others — a failure to recuse when necessary can have far-reaching consequences, including invalidating board action or even removal of the board member.

To avoid such negative outcomes, board members must disclose conflicts and ask themselves if they could fairly make decision on the issue. If the answer is no, they should recuse themselves by avoiding all discussion and participation with other board members who vote on the issue before the board.

The discharge of public duty for the common good is serious business at any level. In the High Country, we expect our elected and appointed officials to treat it as such. Conflicts of interest must be disclosed and acted upon by the individual. If not, the next vote by the board must be the consideration of a vote of censure against the individual concerned.

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