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Indiana ethics chief seeks changes after scandals

November 20, 2014

Indiana Inspector General David Thomas has published a series of ethics reforms, asking for improved disclosure and new rules for state officials after a trio of Statehouse scandals.

The recommendations would bar state workers from certain conflicts of interest and set new limits on future employment for state workers. Thomas published the proposed legislation on the state's website late Wednesday.

Thomas settled a case against former public schools superintendent Tony Bennett for $5,000 this past summer. He also determined earlier that a former top transportation department official "went right up to the line" but didn't break ethics laws.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma is crafting his own package of ethics reforms in response to a scandal involving Rep. Eric Turner. A Bosma spokeswoman says he'll "take into consideration" Thomas' recommendations.

"This report is intended to highlight the areas where the public integrity laws governing the executive branch could be enhanced," Thomas wrote in the 26-page report.

Thomas, the state's top ethics investigator, called for mandatory disclosures if a person leaves work with the state and forms a consulting firm working with the state, better transparency from state contractors and clear requirements on when state officials must recuse themselves when conflicts of interest come up.

He also calls for new rules on the use of waivers of the state's one-year "cooling off" period for state workers. A series of news investigations found that state departments routinely granted waivers to workers without seeking advice from the State Ethics Commission.

Thomas stopped short of criticizing the state's ethics laws or picking out any specific case that exposed holes in the state's laws. But earlier this year, during a rare news conference, he outlined his concerns in the wake of an investigation of former Indiana Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff.

Woodruff, who ran the agency at the same time it purchased land from him and his family, was officially cleared of any wrongdoing by both Thomas and state and federal law enforcement. But Thomas determined that Woodruff walked "right up to the line" of breaking the law with his actions and should have disclosed his personal interest in the land sales.

Thomas has served as the state's inspector general since former Gov. Mitch Daniels created the position in 2005, although he announced over the summer that he would be stepping down to seek a job as a local prosecutor.

Thomas filed the first ethics charges against a major public official last November, when he charged former Bennett with violating ethics laws barring the use of public resources for political purposes. State investigators spent the following months gathering information on Bennett. But Bennett's defense team negotiated a settlement with the state that avoided a public hearing and resulted in Bennett being fined $5,000.

Thomas' call for tougher ethics laws comes as House leaders are looking at their own reforms. Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said ethics reforms will be a top priority for lawmakers in the coming session.

Bosma removed Rep. Eric Turner from his leadership team this year after an Associated Press investigation uncovered Turner's financial stake in a proposed ban on nursing home construction considered last session.

A Bosma spokeswoman said he'll "take into consideration" Thomas' recommendations.

 

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