April 25, 2022

An act that is legal is not necessarily an act that is ethical.  Voters must seriously consider this concept in the upcoming primary elections when making their choice for Republican Legislative District 28 State Representative, Position A.

As a candidate for this position, Pocatello City Councilman, Rick Cheatum, has confirmed that if he wins the primary election and is ultimately elected in November, he plans to hold both the Pocatello City Council and State Legislative seats.  There are inherent conflicts in one person holding these two public positions simultaneously.

To do both jobs requires Councilman Cheatum to be “excused/absent” from his Council position for 3-out-of-12 months each year.  The office of a City Councilman is not a work-from-home (or Boise) virtual job.  Citizens expect their representatives to attend, participate and deliberate in the various council meetings and work sessions.  Likewise, a Legislator’s responsibilities are not limited to only the three months per year when the Legislature is in session.

Although allowable and common for a Councilperson to hold a private-market job, that is not the same as holding two elected, compensated public offices concurrently.  Even if Mr. Cheatum wanted to reject three months of City Council compensation each year, the city has previously disallowed elected officials from doing this.  A City Council office is not one designed for lengthy absences, regardless of excuse. Equally important, there are both incompatibility issues and conflicting loyalty issues inherent in holding these dual offices

Issues of elected office incompatibility arise when one office (Legislator) has the power to vote for or against laws that impact another office (Councilman).  Examples would be a legislative bill which proposes term limits for city-level elected positions or a legislative bill which limits (or expands) local taxation authority.  Obviously, state legislation which governs, or impacts City government is commonplace.

Conflicting loyalties exist when one must choose between the interests of two entities (State vs. City).  An example would be a legislative bill that sets state sales or internet sales tax disbursement.  The fact that both offices have the power of taxation further increases the potential for conflict.

Idahospeaks.com, protecting Freedom of Speech for Conservatives in Idaho

While we all hope that public servants are most loyal to their constituents, we also know that there are strong tendencies in office holders to protect the “entity” under which they serve.  Laws that may be in the best interest of the state, may not be in the best interest of the cities, thus the conflict in loyalty.

Mr. Cheatum clearly indicated his motivation for running is his negative view of legislative actions which restrict city budgets.  Presumably, he will approach any legislative bills impacting City government with this bias – which is okay.  Every candidate has bias.  I do not doubt either Mr. Cheatum’s sincerity or his desire to serve his constituents and I appreciate his desire to help inform other legislators of how cities work.

However, ethically, there are too many inherent issues with the prospect of Mr. Cheatum holding dual offices.  Separation between City and State governments exists for a reason.  Unfortunately, Idaho does not yet address these higher ethical standards in its statutes nor in practice.  Other states do have statutes prohibiting this type of dual office holding.  Until Idaho commits to higher ethical standards in its statutes governing public offices, citizens must use their voting power to prevent these conflicts of interest, protect the integrity of these separate offices, and enforce strong ethical standards.

 

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