Remand issued on ethics complaint: Ethics Board does not waver from decision on Councilman Peltier’s conflict of interest

The view of Bainbridge Island’s Ethics Board has not changed: City Councilman Ron Peltier had a conflict of interest when he refused to support a speed limit change on Grow Avenue unless the speed limit was also changed on nearby Lovell Avenue, where he owns a home.

An ethics complaint was filed against Peltier last September by Chip McDermott, who said he had met with Peltier as a member of the Slow on Grow Committee, a group of Grow Avenue residents who wanted the city to lower the speed limit along the entire length of Grow Avenue to 20 mph.

During the meeting, McDermott said Peltier wouldn’t support the change on Grow Avenue unless the street where he owns property was included as well.

“Ron’s basic position was this: I can help you, but I want 20 mph on Lovell, too,” McDermott said in his complaint.

McDermott said in his complaint the demand amounted to “small-town, old-boy politics at its worst.”

The Ethics Board reviewed the complaint late last year and determined that Peltier had likely violated the city’s Code of Ethics.

That determination of a violation was then sent to the city council, but the council kicked it back to the Ethics Board in January, asking for more details and background information on the Ethic’s Board determination.

In March, the Ethics Board restarted its talk on the complaint, and the remand was wrapped up during the board’s last meeting and sent back to the council.

In its remand determination, the Ethics Board said it was beyond dispute that Peltier had “agreed to support a lower speed limit on Grow on the condition that the speed limit be similarly lowered on Lovell. He also confirms that he owns real property on Lovell. Those facts are not in dispute. The only thing in dispute is Councilmember Peltier’s motivation.”

McDermott had claimed Peltier was motivated by personal gain, while Peltier said “he was thinking about the larger community,” according to the remand determination.

In Peltier’s official response to the complaint, the councilman claimed McDermott had given “a twisted account of our meeting” and said he had been worried that a lower speed limit on Grow Avenue would result in more traffic on Lovell Avenue.

He also said he only mentioned his family’s home on Lovell to let people in the meeting understand his family’s history with the neighborhood. Peltier also said he wanted speed limit changes beyond Grow to be considered because he wanted “all neighborhood streets to be given equal consideration.”

But in its remand determination, the Ethics Board said Peltier’s motivation was “not a determining factor when considering whether a conflict of interest likely occurred or not.”

The board noted the Code of Ethics states: “…an elected official…shall not directly…take any direct official action on a matter on behalf of the City if he or she…is…the owner of an interest in real or personal property that would be significantly affected by the action.”

Since Peltier’s motivation was not a factor in the board’s determination, it looked instead to answer the questions of whether Peltier took direct official action and if his property would be significantly affected by that action.

The answer, the Ethics Board said, was “yes” to both questions.

“Councilmember Peltier met with Mr. McDermott in his official capacity as a member of city council at city hall and negotiated terms for his support of a proposed change to the law. The Ethics Board believes this is direct official action,” the board wrote in its remand determination.

And the board added that it was clear that “Councilmember Peltier’s property on Lovell would be more significantly affected than property on any other street.”

When the council remanded the McDermott complaint back to the Ethics Board in January, some on the council noted that “clear and convincing evidence” of a conflict was missing.

Also at that council meeting, Peltier said his meeting about speed limits with citizens was not official action on his part because he was expressing an opinion in a private meeting. Peltier added that he had been “unfairly targeted” and said he wanted the Ethics Board to retract its advisory opinion on the complaint.

In its remand, the Ethics Board did no such thing.

Instead, the board told the council that it had not been charged with providing “clear and convincing evidence” as that was the council’s job, under the city’s Ethics Code.

The remand of the McDermott complaint was one of eight advisory opinions and determinations issued after the Ethics Board’s last meeting.

While all of the opinions and determinations have been forwarded to the city council, the council has not scheduled any of them for future meeting agendas.

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