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Kirkland City Council reviews draft code of ethics

The Kirkland City Council officially received the draft code of ethics Tuesday during a special study session with the Ethics Task Force. The meeting allowed the council to review and address concerns about the code and a decision was made to have a second study session in early 2011, despite releasing the task force from their duties.

Members of the task force agreed they would be available for further consultation on the documents if needed.

The code of ethics would be applied to City of Kirkland boards, commissions and the city council. The biggest issue the task force was faced with was the idea of implementing disclosure forms for members of boards and commissions.

“In the various comments that we got from various board and commission members, this disclosure provision was the most controversial,” said Task Force Chair Toby Nixon. “They were horrified that we might make them fill out a PDC (Public Disclosure Commission) F1 form.”

The forms are used to alert the public and city staff as to potential conflicts of interest, though Nixon said those violations are rare. The implementation of disclosure forms in other cities has limited the number of violations. “For the most part you don’t get a lot of complaints, even in the larger cities,” said Assistant City Manager Marilynne Beard.

But for some new council members, reviewing the draft code of ethics and disclosure form issue was eye-opening and showed the need for the code.

“I have to admit that this thing made me nervous because I kept seeing instances where I personally could be considered, shall I say, at risk. Because the things I am involved in are funded by the city,” said Deputy Mayor Penny Sweet. “Making me nervous was a good thing. This is very clear.”

But the task force and the council agreed that just because there is the potential for conflicts of interest does not mean that there are conflicts of interest.

“I think disclosure is sufficient,” said task force member and former Mayor Mary-Alyce Burleigh. “This makes people aware of what are conflicts.”

The task force, comprised of Nixon, Burleigh, Kathy Gilles, Carolyn Hayek and Sharon Sherrard, was appointed in April 2010. The task force came up with the draft code of ethics by looking at what many other cities and public agencies have implemented. The task force also received public input. The code of ethics was broken down into three sections, including policy and rules; an ethics board to deliberate on ethics infractions and complaints; and addressing infractions.

“I am interested in making the rules really, really clear so that we don’t have problems,” said Councilmember Jessica Greenway. “The real benefit is to prevent problems ... Need both to have a complete set of expectations especially with new city officials.” Councilmember Dave Asher had concerns about defining what an excused absence is from official meetings and events.

The need for a code of ethics was brought to light during the previous two-year council term. Numerous ethics and legal issues with council members spurred Mayor Joan McBride and others to call for the code of ethics.

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