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Ethics board delivers preliminary determination on Civil Service Commission

The city's Ethics Board has delivered a preliminary determination stating the facts in the ethics complaint submitted by former Civil Service Commission Secretary/Chief Examiner Kim Hendrickson are credible and that the transparency requirement of the Code of Ethics appears to have been violated.

Hendrickson alleged in the complaint that commissioners David Hand and George McKinney met with City Manager Brenda Bauer and City Attorney Jack Johnson in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Code of Ethics of the city's Ethics Program.

Commissioners Hand and McKinney will have an opportunity to provide written response prior to the Oct. 17 Ethics Board meeting to explain their positions on the complaint. Neither Commissioner Robert Fernandez, who later self-reported attending the meetings, or the city employees at the meeting, were addressed in the complaint.

The Civil Service Commission, a three-member volunteer citizen committee responsible for independent oversight of police department hires and employment decisions, has been in turmoil since Hendrickson's contract was terminated in August.

Hendrickson also filed a petition last week to remove Hand and McKinney from office. The city, however, had not created a process to handle the removal of commissioners from the city's three independent commissions – the Planning Commission, Salary Commission and the CSC. At Wednesday's meeting the council made a preliminary proposal to use a combination of the state law which regulates recall for elected officials and the city’s ethic compliant process to address the petition.

The proposal, created by Councilor Bob Scales, will be reviewed by the city attorney and simulates a jury scenario with the presentation of evidence, testimony and a final decision brought down by the city's hearing examiner. The hearing examiner's judgment will then be forwarded to the council, which ultimately has authority to appoint or remove commissioners.

The ethics complaint follows a separate process through the city's Ethics Board. After the Oct. 17 meeting, the board will consider taking any further action, including a determination that the compliant lacks reasonable credibility, issuance of an advisory opinion on the compliant or a determination that a violation occurred. The City Council is the only body with the authority to appoint or remove commissioners.

The preliminary determination made note that although the reorganization of the commission, including Hendrickson's contract termination, is not directly at issue in the complaint that a violation of the OPMA could affect the reorganization if the alleged violations are found to be true. By RCW 42.30.060, any action taken at a meeting that does not comply with the OPMA is null and void.

The Ethics Board also noted that courts have found that "subsequent action in an open meeting that merely ratifies action taken in violation of OPMA (or similar legislations) is also null and void."

Hendrickson has stated that the subject of reorganization was discussed by the commissioners behind closed doors with both Bauer and Johnson, and eventually led to the reorganization and termination of her contract.

Though the Ethics Board does not specifically enforce the OPMA, it does protect the public's interest in full disclosure and ethical behavior and therefore asserts that its jurisdiction requires the meetings of city commissions "be conducted in a manner that maximizes transparency of relationships among individuals or groups that could affect decision-making."

The preliminary determination continues to state that the "requirement to conduct official business in public meetings, as evidenced by compliance with OPMA, is implicit in, and necessary to give effect to, the transparency requirement."

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