Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Conflict of Interest in Preservation Projects

Chapter 9: Preservation Commission Design Review, Page 2 of 6

Conflict of Interest in Preservation Projects | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

It is imperative that commission members avoid involvement in any proceeding in which they have a personal, financial, or professional stake. This is necessary for a commission to issue fair and unbiased decisions.

If a commission member does have a conflict of interest in a particular case, the commission member should not participate in any part of the discussion, hearing, or decision-making process. If this protocol is not followed, the commission could easily find itself in court. Members should be open and up-front about potential conflicts early in the process so the commission is not accused of violating due process procedures.

In some instances, a conflict is obvious. For example, a commission member may own or otherwise have a direct financial interest in the property in question. Other cases might not be so clear cut. If there is any question about a potential conflict of interest, the commission member should consult the city's legal counsel.

Types of Conflicts of Interest

Commission members should be aware of these three common types of conflicts of interest:

Personal conflicts
Personal conflicts of interests revolve around the relationship between a commission member and an applicant. The question here is if the relationship would create a conflict between the member's self-interest and his or her civic obligations. Easily identifiable conflicts are direct relationships, such as a relative (sibling, parent, child, etc.). Indirect relationships, such as neighbors or close friends, are more difficult to assess. If an appearance of impropriety exists, it is best if the commission member refrains from participating in the decision.
Financial conflicts
Financial conflicts of interests are usually easy to identify. They occur whenever a commission member's financial interests will be directly or indirectly affected by the commission's decision. A conflict exists if the commission member owns the property in question or if the value of the member's property will be directly enhanced by the decision. If the commission member owns property adjacent to or in the vicinity of the property under review, property value could be affected. Some preservation ordinances require that commission members who own property within a certain distance of the property under review refrain from participating in the proceedings.
Professional conflicts
Professional conflicts of interest exist when a commission member's professional interests interfere with the member's ability to make an impartial decision. For example, if a commission member is the applicant's architect, a professional conflict of interest exists. Other professional relationships, such as past employers or an association with a particular advocacy group, present greater ambiguity. A relationship with a particular group or other organization does not necessarily constitute a conflict of interest, but commission members should publicly acknowledge their association with an organization, and do so early in the review process, to avoid any allegations.