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Ethics board targeted for closure

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm | 6 Comments »
February 26, 2010 1:13 pm

Rep. Jeannie Darneille wants to save the state money by shutting down the agency charged with acting as an ethics watchdog for the executive branch.

The House Ways and Means Committee could decide today whether to eliminate the Executive Ethics Board.

The board’s $492,000 budget comes from legal-services funds paid by state agencies. Darneille, whose General Government Appropriations Committee has been scouring government for savings, has offered an amendment cutting the money from the budget.

Darneille explains: “What concerned me about them was the low level of productivity of the board. They don’t meet but I think six times a year. They have four staff. They haven’t had any major decisions that have come out of the board.”

Most of the fines it gives out are for state employees alleged to have misused public resources, usually by doing personal business at work or on government computers.

It’s not an area that needs policing, Darneille said. Supervisors can discipline employees for doing personal activity on the state’s dime, she said.

Darneille: “I just don’t think we need to spend a million dollars to find out somebody has gone on Facebook on their computers.”

The five-member board meets every other month, a schedule that it said in a report is due to budget constraints. The board opened 67 new cases last year, closed 30 and fined 11 state workers.

A couple of them were accused of giving out confidential information. Another, a former Department of Ecology worker, was fined $250 for allegedly going to work for a contractor on a project  she had worked on with the state.

Eliminating the board will end enforcement of the ethics act passed by the Legislature in 1994, said Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for Attorney General Rob McKenna, whose agency provides staff to the board.

“We think that’s counter to the goals of transparency and accountability in government,” Guthrie says.

“If that enforcement watchdog was not available, might we see more cases than just the ones they dealt with in 2009?”

UPDATED with comments from attorney general’s office.

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