The Bainbridge Island City Council struggled again this week with the city’s ethics complaint process, and wondered what could be done to protect the reputations of those serving the city from politically motivated or false ethics complaints.
Answers were not easy to find, however.
Some suggested that the subjects of the complaints should be kept secret, until the city’s Ethics Board determines whether the broad outline of an allegation warrants further review.
The problem, suggested Councilman Bob Scales, is that baseless ethics charges, once picked up by the press, live forever in today’s online world.
In our view, the problem is not with the press reporting allegations made against public officials. While some would rather the media wait until all the facts are known about a case of wrongdoing, that’s not the way the press operates here on Bainbridge Island or anywhere else in the free world.
We don’t need to look very far back for examples, which are plentiful inside and outside city hall. A claim of city officials meeting illegally. A police chief accused of misconduct. A police officer accused of stalking.
Alleged wrongdoings by public officials, from presidents to senators to council members, are often broadcast as soon as the press gets wind of an allegation. Determining the veracity of such complaints comes later, and is only possible with the work of a vigilant press committed to the quest for truth.
With public service comes public scrutiny. Bainbridge officials must now decide if reforms are necessary in its ethics complaint process, or if they are willing to live with the consequences that come with a system that empowers citizens to air their grievances on the city’s stage, no matter their motivation, be it for good governance or political mischief.