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Editorial: Ethics complaint against Bowling smacks of politics

August 24, 2003

For the record, we favored a proposal to move the Hustonville Road entrance to Danville Manor Shopping Center farther north to about where the Long John Silver Seafood Shoppe is now located.

By voting 3-2 against the proposal in January, the Danville City Commission may have missed a good opportunity to improve what everyone agrees is a dangerous traffic situation around the intersection of Hustonville Road and Danville Bypass. It should be noted, however, that by creating an entrance that was less dangerous to motorists, the proposal might have been more dangerous to pedestrians coming and going from Danville Cinemas and other tenants in the shopping center. At any rate, the proposal had promise and merited further study, at the least.

That does not mean we agree, however, with an ethics complaint filed last week against Mayor John W.D. Bowling by Ron Jackson, chair of Danville Citizens for Good Government. The local group, which was formed after the forced resignation of former city manager Steve Biven, has done some good work in bringing possible ethics violations to the attention of the Danville ethics board, but we wouldn't consider last week's complaint about Bowling to be one of their better efforts.

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For one thing, the complaint was filed seven months after the Jan. 13 vote on the matter, and one could hardly argue that it was based on new information that has just come to light. Bowling's position on the proposed new entrance, which was estimated to cost the city $75,000, was known even before last November's election, and the mayor, as far as we know, has never tried to keep his financial interest in local fast-food restaurants a secret.

Our main objection to the complaint, however, is that his apparent part-ownership in Popeye's and Arby's on Hustonville Road is far too tenuous a financial connection to the issue.

The question of whether a new shopping center entrance would have helped or hurt which restaurants in that section of Hustonville Road seems entirely debatable to us. One could argue, we suppose, that the new entrance would have made it easier for southbound motorists to get across traffic to Long John Silver. At the same time, one could also argue that improved traffic flow in the area would help northbound motorists turn into Arby's or Popeye's.

Our point, however, is not to debate the traffic engineers, but to argue that this is not the stuff of which ethics violations are made. It's too fuzzy, too theoretical, too arguable to say that Bowling had a financial interest in whether or not the new entrance was opened into the shopping center. If just owning or having a financial interest (such as being an employee) in a business near a proposed city project is considered a conflict of interest, then a lot of good people are going to be prevented from serving the city as elected officials.

While we don't agree with Bowling that the city should never spend public money on private property (didn't Bowling, himself, procure a $1 million state grant to buy the Hub-Gilcher properties?), we don't believe it is unethical for an elected official to hold that opinion.

Frankly, this latest ethics complaint by Danville Citizens for Good Government smacks of sheer politics, and it hurts the group's credibility.

Rather than an ethics debate eight months after the fact, we'd like to see the City Commission undertake a serious study of what else can be done to improve the traffic situation around the Hustonville Road-Danville Bypass intersection. That would be the ethical thing to do.

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