Left-Wing Fargo City Commissioner Melissa Sobolik Has An Ethics Problem

Fargo has created a public art commission. Setting aside that objectionable choice in policy – I can’t imagine anything draining the soul from art like government involvement – a member of the City Commission who was instrumental in setting up the program has an employment interest at stake.

Commissioner Melissa Sobolik spearheaded the city’s public art task force, but unbeknownst to some she was up for a job at a local arts museum which stands to benefit from the city’s entrance into the art world. She even voted to put her new boss on the city’s art commission.

City Commissioner Melissa Sobolik voted on Monday to put the CEO of the Plains Art Museum on a new public arts commission.

That’s not unusual because Colleen Sheehy was a member of the public arts task force that recommended creating the arts commission, and many of the new arts commissioners also served on the task force.

What’s a little unusual is that Sobolik, who convinced the City Commission to create the task force, recently started working for Sheehy as the museum’s development director.

Sobolik declined to speak to The Forum about whether voting on the appointment was a conflict of interest.

“I understand you have talked to the city attorney regarding the appointments to the Art and Culture Commission,” she said in an email. “I have nothing more to add. Thanks.”

Reporter Tu-Uyen Tran explores the legal implications of Sobolik’s decision not to recuse herself from the vote. But legal niceties aside, there’s clearly an ethical problem here. Sobolik has helped established a program that will benefit her employer, and even voted to put her boss in partial control of that program.

That indicates shockingly poor judgment, and calls into question Sobolik’s qualifications to sit on the board.

Local government is a place, more than perhaps other levels of government, where integrity and honesty are prerequisites. Part-time local officials are very often asked to make decisions on policies that can have a dramatic impact on their personal lives. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that – our elected leaders are people who live in the real world with the rest of us – but they must be transparent when their public policy decisions intersect their personal interests, and take great care to avoid conflicts of interest.

Sobolik, seen by many as a rising star in liberal circles who has been rumored as a possible candidate for higher office, very easily could have taken the high road here – the ethical road – by disclosing her employment interest and recusing herself from the vote.

She chose not to. That reflects very poorly on her character as a public official.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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