Sgt. Michael Gibbons, head of the North Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police, has accepted a state Ethics Commission finding that acceptance of free trips for cops to Dallas Cowboy football games provided by Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones was a violation of a state ethics law.
The settlement agreement provides no punishment, not even a warning. It says Gibbons had “good cause” to think the gift was proper because the North Little Rock City Council had passed a resolution deeming the gift government benefits for police service.
The commission noted the gifts were to show appreciation for police work and outreach programs to children, but officers “relied upon the resolution’s erroneous conclusion that your acceptance of the gifts fell outside the scope of Ark. Code Ann. 21-8-801, which serves to prohibit a gift intended to reward a public servant for performing the duties of his or her position.”
The Ethics Commission had earlier dismissed the complaint, brought by blogger Russ Racop, as to the City Council, which itself conferred no actual benefit in its action. But it found probable cause to proceed against Gibbons and Jones.
State law prohibits gifts worth more than $100 to public servants for doing their jobs. Statutes also prohibit public servants taking anything but government benefits for their work or from using their positions to gain special privileges.
Jones grew up in North Little Rock. Some 120 of 178 officers took the trips, along with family and friends, at a total value of at least $300,000, well more than $100 each. Jones was widely praised for the gift and many criticized Racop for filing the complaint and those, like me, who said the state statute’s literal meaning seemed clear. Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel vowed early in the controversy to represent any officers who faced an ethics hearing for free. He represented Gibbons, but hasn’t said if the service was provided free.
Racop provided me today with a letter he received (not a public document but given to him as a complainant) that gave notice of a “final adjudication” hearing for Jerry Jones. That notice, based on established commission procedure, means the commission has made a settlement offer to Jones in the matter, too, but that 10 days has passed without him sending notice of acceptance of the offer. The hearing is set for 9 a.m. May 19. He could still accept the offer before then. Or he could contest the finding at what would be a public hearing.
A first offense of the gift statute carries a maximum penalty for anyone other than a registered lobbyist of a written warning.
EDITORIAL: Seems about right. There’s been a finding that the law means what it says, in the face of broad support for popular figures who stood accused. Nobody will suffer punishment beyond the exposure. Others will be discouraged from using the case as a pretext to slide down more slippery slopes. Finally, who should be more careful about minding the law than the police?