Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

April 30, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Ethics case shows Hoosier frustration

Evaluating anyone for ethics is tricky. Investigating an Indiana legislator for possible ethics violations can become a frustrating journey for Hoosiers.

Rep. P. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, the Speaker Pro Tem who represents a part of northern Madison County, is facing a review of his alleged actions in lobbying for a bill that could have benefited his private business.

Turner’s son owns a nursing home company, Mainstreet Property Group, of which Turner is an investor. During a private GOP caucus this session, Turner argued against a moratorium that would have hurt the business.

Turner denies wrongdoing.

He may be right since Indiana law prevents Hoosiers from knowing the truth.

While there are rules that require legislators to announce possible conflicts of interests, there are no rules that govern legislators when they meet in caucus. What goes on in caucus, stays away from the public.

In Indiana, Julia Vaughn represents the government watchdog group, Common Cause. She made a lot of sense in acknowledging that the law allows elected officials to “behave totally differently” in private meetings than in public sessions.

The rules of caucus, of course, are created by the legislators who bear watching.

The same House Ethics Committee investigating Turner has now said it will meet later this year to consider changes that could include new reporting requirements. This discussion comes out of Turner failing to report ownership in the nursing home company although he reported ownership in its parent company.

While full transparency by elected officials is demanded by Hoosiers, this tweaking of the reporting requirements seems minor compared to the issue of private discussions in caucus. That particular procedure will never be changed; legislators will always defend their need for sensitive discussions to be held in private.

But what they fail to take into account, or dismiss entirely, is that they represent Hoosier voters and taxpayers. They are not in office to serve special interest groups that too often drive legislation. The long-standing dilemma frustrates Hoosiers.

Turner should never have put himself in a position where his ethics would come under fire.

But it’s a local representative’s actions that should force Hoosiers to demand open discussions of every piece of legislation that comes through the Statehouse.

— (Anderson) Herald Bulletin

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