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Ethic board tosses out complaint against councilwoman

The Bainbridge Island Ethics Board tossed out a conflict-of-interest complaint against Councilwoman Sarah Blossom as unsubstantiated and highly speculative.

It was the third ethics complaint taken up by the board in two months.

Unlike the earlier complaints, which were quickly rejected by ethics officials, the board devoted much of its Monday meeting to the complaint filed by former Bainbridge councilman Barry Peters.

In the end, the board was unanimous and said the complaint did not warrant further consideration.

In his complaint, Peters cited multiple sections of the city's ethics code and said Blossom's role with the South Bainbridge Water System, Inc. posed a conflict as the city continues to consider outsourcing the management of its water system to the Kitsap Public Utility District.

Peters claimed a city contract with KPUD could spur the potential sale of the South Bainbridge Water System, Inc.  — which is owned by Blossom's family — to KPUD.

But the board felt the claims were too speculative and lacked sufficient evidence.

The board also acknowledged the long-running political debate over the city's water utility has prompted concerns in all corners.

"This is a controversial topic; it's been a mess for a number of years now," said Board Member Dennis Willerford.

"I think that this is the kind of messy small-town connection that happens in a small town," he said. "And those kinds of potential conflicts, or appearance of conflicts, are meaningful and they have to be managed."

Despite their decision, the board isn't finished with the issue, however. Board members said they would spend time before their meeting next month to craft an official written response to the complaint.

The board will also determine if Blossom had previously disclosed her relationship to her family's water utility, and potentially write an advisory opinion to the council on the issue.

The complaint drew a cluster of familiar faces to the Ethics Board meeting, including Councilman David Ward, former councilman Bill Knobloch, and Bob Bosserman and Arlene Buetow, both current candidates for the city council.

The discussion on whether Blossom had disclosed her ties to the South Bainbridge Water System, Inc. prompted a brief interruption to the board's deliberations.

Knobloch leaned over and tried to get Ward to jump in.

"Say something, say something," Knobloch whispered to Ward.

Ward then chimed in, and said Blossom had previously disclosed her involvement with the South Bainbridge Water System.

"It's already been done," Ward told the board.

Blossom, who was in attendance at the meeting, as was Peters, has previously denied any conflict in voting on KPUD issues that involve the city.

She has also mentioned her employment with the South Bainbridge Water System on her 2012 and 2013 conflict-of-interest disclosure forms that she has filed with the city.

Blossom also previously said she was cleared by the city attorney to vote on matters involving KPUD.

At this week's meeting, Willerford suggested that it may be beneficial for council members to make any disclosures on an ongoing basis when matters span multiple meetings.

Despite his complaint being struck down, Peters said the topic was worthy of discussion by the ethics board.

"I think we are lucky on Bainbridge to have an opportunity to present an ethics question and have people fairly deliberate about it, and I thank the Ethics Board for doing that," Peters said after the meeting.

"I am encouraged that they could see that there was a perception of a potential conflict that should require a council member to disclose, not just once, but on an ongoing basis, the facts that could lead to a conflict. And that was a very helpful clarification," he said.

 

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