City Attorney advises Councilor Bruce Huff of potential conflict of interest

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comJune 18, 2013 

After being questioned about a potential conflict of interest involving Columbus Councilor Bruce Huff, City Attorney Clifton Fay researched the matter and said later he would advise the councilor of a particular section of the city charter dealing with such conflicts.

Huff, whose family owns International Funeral Home in Columbus, was heavily involved in discussions with Coroner Buddy Bryan about issues involving the local funeral industry.

Appendix II, Section 2 of the charter states:

“The Mayor or any Councilor who has a private interest in any matter pending before Council shall disclose such private interest and such disclosure shall be entered on the records of the Council and he or she shall disqualify himself or herself from participating in any decision or vote relating thereto.”

“We are in the process of advising Councilor Huff on that rule and he’ll make a decision accordingly,” Fay said. “I’m not going to go into the specific advice, but I’d say it’s likely he will refrain from further discussion on this issue.”

Bryan was before council to present some proposals that he said would save the city money, but at the expense of local funeral home operators.

The city currently pays funeral homes $600 for cremation of bodies of indigent residents. Bryan said he can get cremations done for $315. With about 100 such cases expected in fiscal 2014, that would save the city $28,500.

The city pays $400 for simple burial of indigent remains. Bryan, who worked in the funeral industry for decades, said he can perform those services for no fee, saving the city another $40,000, if there were 100 cases.

Huff said he had arranged a meeting between local funeral home directors, the coroner and other city officials to try to discuss the proposals, and he was clearly displeased that Bryan had brought his proposals to council before that meeting, which is to be held Thursday.

Council only held discussions on Bryan’s proposals and made no decision.

Asked after the meeting about a potential conflict, Huff said he did not intend to vote on the issue, but didn’t think participating in the discussion crossed any lines.

“If at some point, I have to back off, if I’m asked to step away from it, I’ll be glad to,” he said. “But until that point, it’s just discussion. I will not vote on the issue.”

Huff could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment on Fay’s assertion.

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