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Tacoma’s ethics board to get subpoena power among code revisions

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on March 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
March 9, 2011 3:36 pm

The Tacoma City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a slate of recommended revisions to the city’s ethics code that, among other changes, will grant subpoena power to the citizen Board of Ethics.

Sean Armentrout, the five-member panel’s chairman, has said subpoena power is essential for the board to carry out its mission: Reviewing ethics complaints against Tacoma’s top managers and elected officials.

Since its establishment in 2006, the board has worked without that special legal authority to command subjects or witnesses of an investigation to testify or disclose records.

The lack of subpoena power has yet to become an issue, Armentrout has said. But he and other board members agreed it is needed to ensure future cases that come before the board can be thoroughly investigated.

(Similar municipal ethics panels, such as the City of Seattle’s Elections and Ethics Commission, have held such subpoena powers for years).

The recommendation was one of several proposed revisions to the city’s code of ethics that the board proposed to the City Council. (We wrote about the recommended changes here and here.) Last night, the council largely accepted and approved all recommendations, making just one amendment to a proposed campaign filing requirement. Among the proposed changes adopted:

■ Removing the phrase “an appearance of impropriety” from a list of barred conduct.

■ Broadening a definition for city officials’ conflicts of interest will be broadened to include financial relationships beyond just contractual ones previously cited.

■ Changing the definition for banned gifts to city employees by removing an exemption for gifts under $50 and replacing it with all but nominal promotional items and hosted meals in official capacity

■ Adding a new section to the code that specifically identifies acts of moral turpitude, or dishonesty, as prohibited conduct, so long as it relates to an employee’s job duties

■ Revising a financial disclosure section for elected and appointed officials, so that failure to file annual disclosure forms with the city is recognized as prohibited conduct

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