By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Discussions on an augmented code of conduct stem from a complaint Jack Slowriver, the former Clallam County Democratic Party vice chair, filed against City Councilman Max Mania in August.
City Council members reviewed and suggested changes to a draft version of the proposed policy presented by City Manager Dan McKeen at a Aug. 31 work session and, after a first reading of the document at the council's Oct. 16 meeting, will vote to adopt or reject it when it meets at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.
Mayor Cherie Kidd said Saturday that she is pleased with the changes McKeen has made, adding that she doesn't expect any other major alterations to be made through discussions at Tuesday's meeting.
“It's so much more complete, thorough and comprehensive then anything we've ever had,” Kidd said.
The city's previous code of conduct was simply the generalized code the state makes available for all cities to use, Kidd said, and was not specific enough to prove useful to Port Angeles.
Kidd said the two complaints in August against Mania, one by Slowriver and another by City Councilwoman Brooke Nelson, showed that the city needed a codified way to handle complaints that allow council members to delegate discussions on an alleged code of conduct violation to a separate body, thereby allowing the council to handle city matters.
Slowriver accused Mania of “unethical” behavior over her not supporting the Democratic candidacy of Mania's wife, Dale Holiday, for Clallam County commissioner in the Aug. 7 primary election.
Holiday finished third in the “top two” primary.
Separately, Nelson accused Mania of attempting to “undermine or sabotage positions formally adopted by the council” in correspondence to opponents of Nippon Paper Industries USA's project to expand its biomass cogeneration plant.
“We're supposed to be able to get past [complaints] and deal with the people's business,” Kidd said.
“We're not there to fight with each other. We're there to serve the people of Port Angeles.”
Nelson declined to comment on the proposed code of conduct.
In an email, Mania said: “I don't really have anything to add to the conversation on this subject.”
City employees, as opposed to elected City Council members, have their own codes of conduct and a process for determination if violations have occurred, McKeen said in a Saturday interview.
McKeen said the code of conduct will not be applied to complaints filed prior to its adoption.
McKeen said any Port Angeles resident can file a complaint against a City Council member or council-appointed board or commission member.
The proposed policy is not expected to cost the city additional money, he added.
In addition to establishing a laundry list of standards of conduct — which includes provisions against conflicts of interest for council members when voting on city matters and requirements on behavior when representing the city in public — the proposed policy creates a three-member board of ethics that would hear complaints filed against City Council members or city board or commission appointees.
The board would be called to meet as needed from a pre-existing pool of nine applicants.
City Council members would chose by a supermajority three board members from the nine-applicant pool, applications for which would be accepted at the first City Council meeting in odd-numbered years.
This applications process represents one of the major changes from the originally proposed policy, McKeen said. The original draft had the mayor appointing each of the board of ethics members.
Kidd said she thinks the augmented application process is important so decisions regarding the makeup of the board “don't rest on the shoulders of one individual.”
Appearance of fairness
“The appearance of fairness is critical here, absolutely critical,” Kidd said.
Under the proposal, complaints alleging any violation of the code of conduct would be filed with the city clerk and made a matter of public record.
Once a complaint were filed, the board would investigate it and recommend to the City Council on a penalty if it finds the elected or appointed official to be in violation of the code of conduct.
The City Council would have the sole authority to hand down penalties, which include removal from city boards, commissions, or appointed bodies and various verbal and written statements admonishing the individual found to be in violation of the code of conduct.
The proposed policy stops short of allowing the removal of a City Council member from office, though the mayor or deputy mayor could be removed if found to be in violation.
Kidd said she is satisfied with the proposed penalties.
“I'm not willing to take it further,” Kidd said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.