It is really cut-and-dried: the Metro Council's ethics rules say that members should not play a part in decisions in which they will knowingly have material financial interest distinguishable from public interest. Developer Eric Crafton is a Council member who is sponsoring a bill that would reduce sidewalk fees that developers pay Metro for building sidewalks. Not only should he not be sponsoring such a bill, he should not even be voting on it.
Couching the appearance of graft in terms of helping people besides developers does not give his cause any more merit. The unscrupulous use of one's government position (keep in mind that this is the same guy who habitually hates on government!) to garner professional financial benefits--or the appearance there of--qualifies as graft. And flaunting ethics rules because they don't fit your own personal taste or professional lifestyle seems unscrupulous to me.
Part of the problem is that Crafton's back is covered by some of those who are supposed to be guarding proper Council conduct. Council Board of Conduct and fellow Council member Rip Ryman told the Tennessean that he doesn't personally have a problem with this conflict of interest, and that they rely on Crafton's expertise with sidewalks. However, I do not hear anyone saying that Crafton should be barred from lending his expertise to the discussion of this topic. I do hear people arguing that exercising power by sponsoring and by voting on this measure constitutes an ethics violation.
If Crafton were a lawyer and he brought a resolution before the Council that would benefit a corporation that he professionally advises, he would be openly criticized if he did not recuse himself. Lawyers have more ambiguous standing in society than developers. However, developers who are also elected officials should not expect preferential treatment on their conflicts of interest. They should be as prepared as lawyers are to recuse themselves. And fellow members who sit of all places on the Council Board of Conduct should not be making excuses for potential ethics violations based on their personal feelings or on archaic councilmanic courtesy.
For pete's sake, what is it going to take to make these good ole boys find some moral backbone?