Citizen panel touts creation of ethics board

A citizen committee this week recommended the creation of a formal code of ethics for the city, as well as a five-person ethics board with the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

The recommendation follows a year of study by an advisory committee comprised of Charles Schimd, longtime community activist; Jim O’Connor, former King County hearing examiner; and Bob Schoonmaker, owner of the Chandlery.

The recommendations were “not motivated by members of our committee, or those to whom we spoke, by specific complaints of (un)ethical behaivior,” Schmid said, writing for the committee in an introductory report.

Rather, he said, the provisions would give city employees a means to avoid improper behavior by seeking advisory opinions from the board, and give citizens a fair avenue should concerns arises.

“It is of course impossible to predict when such cases will arise on Bainbridge Island,” Schmid wrote, “but the city should be prepared.”

The draft program is based largely on similar provisions used by the city of Denver, Colo., as well as codes in the cities of Lakewood and Marysville, and King County. It includes rules governing the acceptance of gifts, outside employment, and other potential conflicts of interest; “major contractors” seeking to do business with the city would be required to disclose potential conflicts of their own.

The program would establish a formal hearing process for complaints against elected city officials, administrators and rank-and-file workers. Those found to have committed an ethical breach would be subject to private or public reprimand or censure by the council, termination or other sanction. Elected officials could not be removed from office.

Of the five-person ethics board, two members would be appointed by the mayor, two by the council, and one by the city administrator.

An ethics ordinance was proposed two years ago by Councilman Bill Knobloch, and immediately drew fire from city employees. One city planner went before the council to charge that Knobloch was carrying out a “vendetta” and wanted to use the ordinance to have him fired, a charge that Knobloch denied.

This week, Bainbridge Island Police Officers Guild president Scott Anderson questioned the need for the program. He also suggested that an attempt to impose such provisions on unionized employees would breach current agreements with the city’s two collective bargaining units.

“In principal, we don’t see an ethics ordinance being any sort of threat to members of the (guild),” Anderson said.

“We don’t conduct ourselves unethically, and have no plans to do so.

“I think there’s some good intentions there, but I’m not sure what problems it’s trying to solve,” he said. “There are already rules in the city, and guidelines that the police department operates under, that would preclude any unethical conduct.”

The program was referred to the council’s finance committee for review.

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