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When Philanthropy and Public Service Collide

Monday, Aug. 8, 2011

Phil Lakin gives back to the city of Tulsa every day, serving as the head of the Tulsa Community Foundation. Now he wants to serve the community in an additional capacity: as an elected member of the city council, and some say this will create a conflict requiring frequent recusals.

The philanthropic foundation, according to Tulsa World, is worth $4 billion and is the largest of its kind in the nation. The city has been a beneficiary, receiving money for projects ranging from the travel budget for employees in the mayor’s office to buying a $25 million revenue bond to front the cost of a civic project. (The money will be repaid over a 30-year-period.)

The chair of the Ethics Advisory Committee believes Lakin will have to recuse himself from many votes. “Any official,” said Michael Slankard, “whether elected or appointed, has to be very careful about how their day job interacts with their public duties and the perception that will have on the public.”

Although Lakin could not speculate what might constitute a conflict of interest with his job, he has stated “I can guarantee you that if there are any conflicts of interest, I am going to recuse myself, but to sit here today and try to figure out what those are would be really difficult.”

However, the candidate has hinted that his professional affiliation could benefit Tulsa. “If I am elected and see holes in funding that could really advance our city, then yes, I would come back to the community foundation and let our donors know about them. I can't guarantee a dollar will come, but if we can make investments because of the knowledge I receive, then I think that's a benefit."

Please share your comments on the following questions:

•  How will the officeholder know what constitutes “crossing the line” prompting a recusal?

• Should Lakin take a “wish list” back to the Foundation?

• Do you think there should be a process whereby citizens can petition the councilmember for recusal?

Tags: campaigns, conflicts of interests

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