The new chairman of the Missouri Housing Development Commission says the state audit of the commission re-enforces his belief that it needs new standards of conduct.
State Treasurer Clint Zweifel proposed new ethical standards for the commission on Tuesday and Wednesday found himself reading the state audit critical of the commission.
The audit points out that commissioners are not required to recuse themselves from real or perceived conflicts of interest. The State Auditor’s Office identified two commissioners who appeared to have at least the appearance of conflicts of interest, but did not recuse themselves from voting on the projects. Another commissioner participated in projects involving an individual with whom he had a limited partnership.
News reports disclosed that Columbia developer Jeff Smith two years ago bought property from commission member Bill Luetkenhaus for $1.7 million, though Luetkenhaus paid only $932,000 for the piece two months earlier, something Zweifel says needs to stop.
"I find that to be a conflict in my eyes," Zweifel told the Missourinet, "And I think to prevent that from ever happening again we have to have a strengthened standards of conduct policy that prohibits that sort of behavior."
Zweifel, as the new chairman, has proposed new standards of conduct for the commission; standards he says need to be implemented before moving forward. He acknowledges the commission has work before it.
"This is a priority for me. I believe and hope that this is a priority for rest of the commission members. I believe it is," Zweifel says.
Zweifel says he has received positive response from other commission members about his proposals.
The proposals Zweifel is pushing would prohibit commissioners or MHDC staff from having personal financial relationships with anyone receiving money from the commission. Anyone applying for funding through the MHDC would have to disclose all business relationships with the commission. Former commissioners or employees would not be able to work with those seeking MHDC assistance for a period of time and anyone who violated the new standards could be banned from working with the housing agency.
The Missouri Housing Development Commission is a mixture of public officials and lay leaders. The Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and Treasurer are members of the commission. Six lay leaders are appointed by the governor, subject to approval by the State Senate. There are two vacancies now on the 10-member commission. It provides housing assistance to the poor and the elderly.
Zweifel says the ethical cloud now hanging over the commission has overshadowed some impressive work. He points out the MHDC has provided the assistance needed to help 77,000 Missourians buy their first home. The commission also has invested $4 billion in the state economy. He says it was the first in the nation to latch on to the $8,000 new house buyer incentive program offered through the federal government’s economic stimulus package.
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