When Clark County voters turned in their ballots last November, it was clear they wanted the county council to adopt a code of ethics and a process for independent review of ethics violations. . Over 67% of voters approved Charter Amendment No. 5.
Six months later, the county council has made progress but is struggling to staff the new ethics commission before the July 31 deadline set by the charter amendment.
The county council unanimously approved an ordinance creating an ethical code of conduct, an ethics review commission and an ethics oversight office on April 5. Soon after, County Executive Kathleen Otto began accepting applications for the new office.
So far, only one person has applied for the Board of Directors consisting of three volunteer members. Otto said Friday that all three positions remain open. The application deadline, originally set for May 27, has been extended to June 24.
Otto said she will continue to accept applications until all positions are filled, even though the deadline has passed.
“The commission will be responsible for receiving allegations regarding the code of ethics in Clark County Code 2.07.01 and determining if there is sufficient cause to warrant an investigation. If it determines that there is sufficient cause to warrant an investigation, the commission will conduct the investigation. If the investigation confirms a violation, the commission will determine the appropriate action,” Otto said via email.
An example of an ethics violation would be an employee or elected official using their position for their own benefit, Otto said. Others, as defined by county human resources policy, would fail to disclose a conflict of interest, solicit or accept gifts, or conceal wrongdoing.
Depending on the ordinance passed by the county council, if an alleged breach of ethics is found to have occurred, action by the committee may include a public reprimand, a public censure resolution, or any action authorized by law. If the commission finds that a county employee has violated the code of ethics, the county executive may take further action in accordance with state law, county policy, or the collective agreement.
Commission members are expected to serve for three years. Initially, Commissioner 1 will serve a one-year term, Commissioner 2 a two-year term, and Commissioner 3 a three-year term.
Candidates for the new commission must live in Clark County and “must be qualified in the area of ethical conduct in government,” Otto said.
Otto said the commission would meet as often as it deemed necessary. Meetings usually take place when an ethics complaint is filed.
The commission may have a complaint pending investigation once formed. In February, Vancouver resident Rob Anderson alleged an ethics violation by Councilman Temple Lentz following statements she made before a public hearing on a mini-initiative.
The board, which was one member short at the time, was unable to secure a majority vote to dismiss the complaint or later send it to the commission for review. The board could revisit that decision now that it’s back to five members, but “there was no motion to reconsider the complaint,” Otto said. She said no other ethics complaints or allegations have been filed since.
In addition to posting public notices for commission openings on the county’s website and social media accounts, Otto said she “has passed this on to the local bar association and will pass it on to professional human resources organizations as well as colleges”.
To apply, send a cover letter and resume to Michelle Pfenning, County Manager’s Office, PO Box 5000, Vancouver, WA 98666-5000 or [email protected]
For more information on Washington State Public Service Ethics Law, go to https://bit.ly/3aVSvbB.