Port Angeles City Council eliminates ethics code; city reverts to state rules

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles City Council members have gutted a 5-year-old ethics code that pro- and anti-fluoridation advocates wielded last year to target all seven of those same council members.

After little discussion, and after the public showed almost no interest, the council held a brief second reading of the revisions Tuesday before unanimously voting 6-0 to eliminate the existing 2012 code.

There have been no recent comments from council members or the public “with the exception that many people reported to me that there was one typo in the ordinance, and that has been corrected,” City Attorney Bill Bloor said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Council members replaced the 2012 code with state rules that focus almost solely on conflicts of interest instead of the bad behavior that the 2012 code was intended to address.

Councilman Michael Merideth was not present for the vote.

The new ordinance requires council members to operate under the state Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers and requires city elected and appointed officials to undergo annual ethics training.

Prohibited acts focus on conflicts of interest, including officials using their positions to “secure special privileges,” to receive compensation or gifts related to matters under their purview, or using job-related information for personal gain.

The council held a first reading of the ordinance June 6, when Councilman Brad Collins called the move “a good step forward.”

The new code eliminates 9½ pages of a 12-page ordinance that council members approved in 2012 when they discarded the state rules they readopted Tuesday.

For example, no longer will it be a specific violation under the code to reflect discredit on public officials and cause “disrepute” to the city.

Bloor said Wednesday that council members still can reprimand each other for the kind of offensive behavior that led them to pass the 2012 code.

Also gone are the council-approved, three-person boards that considered alleged ethics violations before making recommendations to the council on meting out punishment.

The council began discussing the revisions at several work sessions and regular council meetings beginning in 2016.

That was after the last of four complaints against council members under the code was filed, one of which led to a recommendation — a verbal admonishment of Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd after she abruptly adjourned a Feb. 2, 2016, meeting during comments by fluoridation opponents, a recommendation that the council rejected.

Bloor was himself the target of a 2016 fluoridation-related ethics complaint that a Seattle attorney who was hired by the city determined was without merit and who determined that the code did not apply to Bloor anyway because he is a city employee.

Bloor said several avenues can be taken by residents who file future ethics charges against council members under the newly adopted code.

They include asking the city to take action, reporting potential violations to the state auditor’s office or state attorney general’s office, or filing action in Superior Court.

The 2012 code of ethics was adopted after former county Democratic Party Vice Chair Jack Slowriver alleged that then-Councilman Max Mania used foul language and was unethical toward her because she did not support Mania’s wife in an unsuccessful bid for Clallam County commissioner.

Then-City Councilwoman Brooke Nelson also claimed Mania had undermined the council on issues related to Nippon Paper Industries USA, now McKinley Paper Co.

Kidd had argued in 2012 that the state standards she agreed to reinstate Tuesday were not specific enough to address Mania’s behavior.

If another council member exhibits behavior similar to Mania’s, “we’ll have to address it,” Kidd said Wednesday.

“We’ve all agreed that this is the best way to handle it moving forward.”

The readopted code is “a living document,” Kidd added.

“We can change it and update it as it needs to be.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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