Four members of five-member Ethics Board resign in protest

Four of five members of the city of Bainbridge Island’s Ethics Board have resigned their seats.

In a letter sent Monday to Mayor Leslie Schneider, the four members of the board criticized the council’s recent revisions to the city’s Ethics Program and said the changes “stifles citizen complaints and reduces the role of the Ethics Board to administrative gatekeeper.”

The letter was signed by Ethics Board Chairwoman Suzanne Keel-Eckmann, and Ethic Board Members Ingrid Billies, Maradel Gale and Brian Strully.

The letter noted that last year was jam-packed with ethics complaints filed against members of the Bainbridge city council.

“2019 was a sad year for the city of Bainbridge Island, its Ethics Board and its citizens,” the letter said. “It was a year with a record number of ethics complaints filed against councilmembers.”

The four members said the Ethics Board dedicated their expertise, time and energy on applying the city’s ethics code, “and protecting the public’s interest in full disclosure of conflicts of interest, and promoting ethical behavior.”

“The council’s response was not to address the behaviors leading to these complaints but to challenge the integrity of the Ethics Board, in some cases to attack members of the Ethics Board, and to draft a new Ethics Program that stifles citizen complaints and reduces the role of the Ethics Board to administrative gatekeeper.”

The letter also recounted the review of the city’s Ethics Program that has been underway since April 2019, and noted how members of the Ethics Board worked cooperatively to improve the ethics program and sent letters on the proposed changes.

The four members aid the “letters were not acknowledged and perhaps never read.”

The new program, they added, included changes that the members could not support.

The “final assault,” they said, was a “sunset provision” that would require the council to renew the program after one year.

“We believe this gives the council a simple and silent way to end this inconvenient program by doing nothing,” the four said in their letter. “And given the long deliberation taken by [the] city council to just agree on the current program, we would expect this clause to be imposed.”

“The Ethics Board is proud of its work,” the letter concluded. “We have rendered fair, objective and thoughtfully reasoned ethical opinions. We have served this city honorably, with courage and dignity. We have diligently and carefully applied the tenets of the previous Ethics Program, serving as a non-judicial body of peers to which citizens can voice their concerns.

“We believe this new program adopted by [the] city council is ill-conceived and ill-advised and puts both the citizens and the city as risk. As a result, the signatories below, current members of the Ethics Board, are compelled to resign,” the letter said.

The Ethics Board has five members and only one, Jennifer Hodges, did not sign the letter.

Copies of the Jan. 27 letter were also sent to the Bainbridge council, city manager, and city attorney.

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