Outgoing Councilmember Kol Medina has done a lot for Bainbridge Island – as an elected official, community activist and executive director of the Kitsap Community Foundation.
But one of his last gifts to the island could be to help improve the process of the city’s new Ethics Board. Medina knows firsthand what some of those flaws might be as he is the subject of some of the first complaints to that board.
The council discussed some of those potential flaws at a recent meeting. It plans to talk about them again at its Nov. 10 meeting after taking time to think about them and other possible problems with the Ethics Board process.
However, Richard Haugen of Bainbridge Island questioned Medina’s intent in a Letter to the Editor to The Bainbridge Island Review. He wondered if Medina’s suggestions were made in an effort to have the two ethics complaints against him thrown out.
City Attorney Joe Levan could not specifically say if any changes made to the Ethics Board operating procedures would be retroactive. He said in an email that Medina’s or other motions would be subject to vote Nov. 10. It will be decided then if any changes would apply to pending matters being considered by the Ethics Board, Levan said.
In a copy of a letter sent to Levan by Ziontz Chestnut Attorneys at Law that was emailed to the Review newspaper Wednesday, Wyatt Golding writes, “It would be completely contrary to the purpose and content of the Code of Ethics, as well as basic principles of rule of law, to allow a respondent facing an active ethics complaint to change the rules of the Code midway through the complaint procedure.”
One of the problems Medina mentioned was that Ethics Board members should only be allowed to look at information provided in the complaint. In one of the two filed against Medina, an email was sent to the board.
Medina, who is leaving the area in mid-November for a job in Walla Walla, said to fix that flaw the email addresses of Ethics Board members should be taken off public websites. “They should be isolated from outside influence,” Medina said.
He added that all Ethics Board members also should sign a certification that they will not engage in such communications.
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said Ethics Board members are like a jury in that they don’t look at outside information.
“Look only at the documents in front of them,” she said. “No extraneous information.”
Jennifer Hodges, who chairs the Ethics Board, said, “That should not happen.”
Councilmember Christy Carr said there are probably lots of people who have ideas about the Ethics Board.
Councilmember Michael Pollock suggested public comment is needed. He added the Ethics Board has had only one meeting and the process didn’t work, so it needs to be discussed in detail to be improved.
Deputy Mayor Joe Deets said he would like to add to the mission of the Ethics Board that its work should be about education, not punishment. “I don’t really think that’s what we’re after here,” he said.
Hytopoulos said: “These are sensitive issues. We need to think this through.”
Medina said his suggested amendments aren’t that complicated.
Deets said he would like to hear what some of the other motions are, and Hodges agreed, saying the Ethics Board would like more clarity.
Another problem with one of the complaints filed against him, Medina said, is that it was anonymous. He said their rules say a name and address is required.
Councilmember Rasham Nassar said some “complainants may fear retaliation” so an anonymous one still could be valid.
Hytopolous wondered if the process gives complainants too much power – even with their name and address.
Another idea Medina has for the process is to allow the person whom the complaint is against to respond to it.
In his personal case, he admitted he was given that chance, but didn’t see the email. But, he asked that in the future the Ethics Board confirm the complainant doesn’t want to officially respond before proceeding publicly with the complaint.
Hodges said the process didn’t even ask her to give Medina that opportunity to respond by sending the email, so that also needs clarity. “It’s good to be consistent,” she said.
Hytopolous said the complainant “deserves that right” to respond. “There’s a lot at stake.”
She added that when the Ethics Board process was created it was done with transparency so everything would be discussed out in the open. But, she said, some complaints could be brought maliciously and damage someone’s reputation even if it’s not true.
The City Council adopted the Ethics Board Operating Rules Oct. 19 to guide the conduct of city councils, committees and commissions.
Of the two complaints against Medina, one came from attorney Golding, representing an anonymous complainant. The complaint alleges that Medina had an undisclosed conflict of interest representing the city and the foundation. Specifically, it says the foundation received donations from people from Olympic Property Group, which later was awarded a $796,000 contract; and Harrison Medical Center, which received $1.3 million more than appraised for a piece of property.