When is a conflict not a conflict?

Conflict of interest is a funny thing. It appears to be in the mind of the beholder more than anything else. What is one person’s definition of conflict of interest is another person’s definition of business as usual.

When it was revealed that Sussex County Councilman Sam Wilson, who was sworn in two years ago, has part ownership in a small manufactured home park, questions began to migrate in like the snow geese that are landing in local fields this time of year.

Wilson, who has been around the block a few times, took it all in stride and said he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He said his votes on manufactured home issues would not be different if he didn’t have a connection to the business.

This is not the first time the dreaded conflict of interest debate has surfaced in the hallowed halls of Sussex County Council. Several years ago, Councilman George Cole, a real estate agent, was criticized when he sold properties in a development he voted to approve.

At the time, Cole said the real conflict of interest was the actions of his fellow councilmen who owned businesses that could profit from building projects: Dale Dukes selling lumber; Finley Jones providing metal products; or Lynn Rogers selling signs. All three of those council members retired two years ago.

Recently, the council has used a conflict of interest to shut down the nomination of a board of adjustment nominee from Councilwoman Joan Deaver. Council members decided John Walsh’s volunteer involvement as a lobbyist with the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association presented too much of a conflict of interest for him to make unbiased decisions.

Wilson was among those opposed to Walsh.

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