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Conflicts of interest are problems for politicians here and everywhere

When the Unicoi County Ethics Committee looks into an accusation of a conflict of interest against Commissioner Doug Bowman this week, perhaps members should broaden the scope.
The committee will meet Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 3 p.m. in the conference room of the Unicoi County Courthouse, and the meeting is open to the public.
For Bowman – who is actually a member of the Ethics Committee but will not be allowed to participate – it may put to an end or answer the accusation that he and his family unfairly benefited from construction contracts at the new jail.
To be fair, Bowman brought the scrutiny on himself after saying that the county took “bread off my table” when it contracted with the road superintendent’s office to provide some construction services at the jail.
It was a stupid thing to say – especially since Bowman’s company had already earned a nearly $80,000 jail contract.
But the real problem for the Ethics Committee – and many local government agencies – is that conflicts of interest are often problems. Until recently, the county commission was made up of several county employees, who, during budget time, voted on raises for themselves.
In a website poll conducted by The Erwin Record over the past week, 91 percent of respondents said the county has a problem with politicians having conflicts of interest.
As for Bowman, County Mayor Greg Lynch has pointed out that he didn’t vote on the measure that awarded his family a winning contract.
But there are other problems. For example, even if a commissioner doesn’t end up voting on a measure, has he or she contributed to discussion that could end up favoring their personal interests? Of course.
The public would obviously be better served when politicians decline to have anything before them that would be beneficial to them personally or financially.
But voters often return these same people to office. Who’s really to blame? Voters or politicians? Or both?