Tacoma’s citizen Board of Ethics announced late Thursday it will push ahead with its fact-finding into Mayor Marilyn Strickland’s recent trip to Asia by issuing formal questions to the mayor and an area businessman who covered her airfare expenses.
“The board has deliberated and our next stop in our formal fact-finding process is we will be … directing the staff to acquire certain documents and records, along with a set of interrogatories to Mayor Strickland and Mr. (Ron) Chow,” board chairman Sean Armentrout said. “And we will reconvene at a later date to review those items.”
The board’s review was triggered by two citizens’ complaints based on a News Tribune story last month about Strickland’s trip.
The board also decided Thursday to seek more information about a complaint made by local gadfly John Hathaway against City Manager Eric Anderson that raises conflict-of-interest concerns. The complaint cites Anderson’s ties to a nonprofit retirement corporation and a city committee’s recent decision to contract with the same firm to handle an employee pension plan.
The Deferred Compensation Committee seeks to award a single-vendor contract with the International City/County Management Association Retirement Corporation to handle the city workers’ pension plan. Anderson has voluntarily served on the ICMA-RC’s directors’ board since 2004.
“The board has determined that further information is necessary to reach a resolution on this matter,” Armentrout said.
“…The board will be seeking that information in the form of written interrogatories to members of the Deferred Compensation Committee that report to the city manager and to City manager Anderson himself.”
Also Thursday, the ethics panel dismissed two other complaints against Anderson related to the city’s bidding process for a contract to remodel Cheney Stadium, and a separate complaint against Strickland related to a citizen’s request about her goddaughter’s health. The board found no evidence of code violations or improper conduct in those cases, Armentrout said.
Strickland has said she will withhold comment about the board’s review of her Asian trip until the matter is resolved.
She previously told The News Tribune she used the frequent flier miles of Chow, a Lakewood businessman with international business contacts, to cover her airfare for a 10-day business trip to South Korea and China to avoid sticking the city with the bill. Strickland has since told The News Tribune she will reimburse Chow.
Chow, meanwhile, recently told the newspaper that he does not believe his actions violated any ethics rules or are considered a prohibited gift under the city’s ethics code.
Anderson also recently told The News Tribune the city’s Deferred Compensation Committee acted independently and without his knowledge when determining its preferred choice of vendor to handle the employee pension plan. Anderson said once he learned of the committee’s action, he took steps to ensure he was further “insulated” from any involvement in that process.
The ethics board is next scheduled to hold a special meeting to discuss both cases on April 27.