Port Townsend council committee will seek more public input on ethics rules

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has postponed action on changes to its code of ethics until it hears more public input.

The council Monday formed a committee to collect more public input after three people said that public input had been insufficient.

Council members David Faber, Amy Howard and Pamela Adams all volunteered for the code of ethics committee, which was formed after more than a half-hour of discussion.

Council members had discussed the changes to the code of ethics during a July 17 meeting and reviewed the draft of changes, which simplifies the code by copying the state Code of Ethics. At that meeting, public comment was accepted but no community members spoke.

At Monday’s meeting, three people spoke during the public comment period. All three said that the process seemed rushed and there was not enough public input accepted on the issue.

“The code shouldn’t be repealed until it is properly reviewed and in a public hearing,” said Mark Cole, one of those who spoke during the public comment period. “It seems shady and unethical.”

“We don’t trust what you’re trying to rush through here,” said Tammy Markham of Port Townsend.

After the public comment, Mayor Deborah Stinson said that the city was attempting to simplify its code of ethics by switching to the code used by the state.

“What we’re trying to do here is simplify the process,” Stinson said. “We’re recognizing that the state code is well used by cities of our size.”

Other council members echoed Stinson’s desire to simplify the code, and offered solutions that would both educate and involve the public to quell the lack of public trust seen in the public comments.

“It might be better to rethink this and just go through our own code and make it simpler, more straightforward and get more input from our citizens,” Adams said.

Faber agreed that the current code was overly complicated and vouched for a process more open to the public.

“I think it’s reasonable to do some sort of public process aside from our regular meetings,” Faber said.

Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval made the motion for a committee to be formed, Faber seconded the motion and it was approved unanimously by the city council, aside from Councilman Robert Gray who was not in attendance.

Faber said the committee meetings would allow more public comment than the usual public hearing or public comment period would.

The city code of ethics is now very similar to the state’s code.

According to City Attorney Steve Gross, about 85 percent of the city’s code is almost a direct quote of the state code of ethics. However, some changes made in the early 2000s made the code redundant and overly complicated, he said.

“When we tried to tweak it, we messed it up,” Gross said. “Staff thought that if we just went back to the state code it would then be less messed up.”

No code of ethics committee meetings had been scheduled as of Tuesday. They will be posted on the city’s website at http://www.cityofpt.us/ once they are on the calendar, city officials said.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected]

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