Appointment not inappropriate

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 22, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

City Councilman Calvin Jones did not act inappropriately in his recent appointment of an extended family member to the Industrial Development Authority, said a city legal official.

Jones tapped his nephew-in-law, Joseph G. &uot;Tim&uot; Copeland, to represent the Holland borough on the IDA, the city’s economic development arm. The decision-making authority is charged with bringing new and expanding businesses and industries into the city.

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A Suffolk native, Copeland, 39, is executive director of the Suffolk Education Foundation and a real estate appraiser trainee. With a degree in business administration from Christopher Newport University, Copeland has worked as an independent systems analyst and edited and/or written for newspapers and technical publications for much of the past two decades. He spent 11 years, from 1989 to 1999, as editor of the Suffolk News-Herald.

Copeland will assume his new seat in March. He will replace IDA member Mills March, whose term expires this month.

Before nominating Copeland, Jones said both City Attorney Ed Roettger and Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson researched to make sure his family connection to Copeland does not create a conflict of interest.

&uot;Technically and legally, it is not a conflict of interest,&uot; Ferguson said.

Under state code, Jones would have to have a personal interest in a contract or transaction for there to be a violation, Ferguson said. In other words, Jones or anyone in his immediate household would have to have a direct financial benefit or liability for a conflict of interest to exist, he said.

&uot;Clearly, your relationship with Mr. Copeland does not fall within any of these situations,&uot; Ferguson wrote in an opinion issued on Jan. 14.

&uot;The purpose of conflict of interest law is to assure citizens…that the judgment of public officers and employees will not be compromised or affected by inappropriate conflicts,&uot; Ferguson wrote. &uot;The laws cannot, however, protect against all appearances of conflict.

&uot;…It is incumbent upon a public official, therefore, to determine whether a proposed action will present an appearance of impropriety that the official finds unacceptable.&uot;

Another council member, Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, also has a family member serving on a council-appointed city committee. His wife, Suzie Bennett, a retired educator, is on the city’s library committee.

But unlike the IDA – which is an independent voting body with a budget partially funded by taxpayers – the library committee acts strictly in an advisory capacity.

Jones said he is confident Copeland will be an asset to the city’s IDA.

&uot;As a native, Tim is genuinely interested in the city and its future,&uot; Jones said.

&uot;I’m looking forward to …being able to represent him (Jones) in making decisions that will result in favorable outcomes for the city,&uot; Copeland said. &uot;This is my home… and I want to see it thrive.&uot;