City’s Code of Ethics isn’t all that ethical | Letters | March 4
March 3, 2011 · 5:26 PM
What an amazing education I have had this fall learning about civics and our community. I had some crazy romantic notion that the ideals of democracy and free speech should be considered an ethical issue.
After all ethics is defined as a system of moral principles and moral choices made by an individual based on the principles of what is right or wrong. If you are treading on the ideals of free speech and democracy you are treading on ethical issues.
But ethics in our community has nothing to do with ethics as I understand the definition, but rather ensuring the enforcement of the city’s Code of Ethics, which is limited: gifts to officials; use of city property; confidentiality; conflict of interest; conflict of interest after leaving office; conflict of interest by family members; conflict of interest by contractors
It is outside of the Code of Ethics to deal with most ethical issues. So, in our community it is considered ethical to control and hide information. It is also ethical to decide what the public is allowed to discuss and when they will be censured. It is ethical to lie in public, and if you get caught it is ethical to change what you say. We all accept it and simply wait for the next election as our sole source to democracy.
As one City Council member was telling me, how beautiful democracy is in action on Bainbridge Island. Then the City Attorney quickly corrected my interpretation of state law, pointing out that within our form of city government there is no legal requirement for public participation within the public process.
Other cities with the council/manager form of government have language that requires participation, but that language simply does not exist within RCWs that we have adopted. That is democracy in action. We voted to give away our right to public participation, though I can’t believe that was the intent of the electorate.
Unless you have the energy and the means to challenge the language of the RCW in court, there is not much hope to insure democracy within our community.
I learned this fall that although these issues are all “very important,” “very interesting” and “should be opened up for discussion,” they are all pretty irrelevant within the status quo.