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Tacoma: City dismisses ethics complaint against former facilities director Mike Combs stemming from Dome study

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Feb. 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm with No Comments »
March 1, 2012 10:15 am

UPDATED: 5:28 p.m. In a phone interview this afternoon, Combs said he is satisfied with the review’s findings.

“It’s what I expected,” he said. “…What I was doing was working on this as a private citizen. I’m not a consultant or a city employee any more.”

Original post:

The city has dismissed an ethics complaint against former Public Assembly Facilities Director Mike Combs after a review found he did not violate Tacoma’s ethics code when he worked last year to seek a publicly-funded study about the Tacoma Dome.

Combs, a city employee for 25 years, had worked for several months after his retirement in April 2011 to line up support from city and Pierce County officials for the estimated $100,000 market feasibility study that seeks to determine, among other things, what renovations would be needed for the Dome to land an NBA or NHL franchise.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland announced the city’s intention to pursue the study in September.  The city solicited bids for the study earlier this month.

Tacoma’s ethics code generally prohibits city officials and employees from involvement in city matters for a period of one year after they leave the city’s payroll.  A News Tribune story published in November that raised questions about the issue prompted local gadfly and blogger John Hathaway to file a citizen’s complaint, which led to the city review.

(I’ve left messages today for Combs and his attorney, John Ladenburg, Jr., and will update this post with their comments once I hear back from them.)

Tracy Storwick-Stafford, the city investigator assigned to review the complaint, concluded after interviewing Combs and reviewing records that Combs was not being paid or under contract at the time of his work on the Dome project.

Because the city code, as revised in March, applies only to former employees, such as Combs, who “come back (to the city) as a contractor,” the investigator determined “Mr Combs’ conduct did not fall within the scope of the City’s Code of Ethics,” and the city had no jurisdiction over the matter.  She concluded:

A violation of the City of Tacoma’s Code of Ethics based on impermissible conduct after leaving City service requires a finding that a former employee, within one year of
leaving the City’s service and while working as a paid contractor, assisted or represented another person in matters involving the City that were related to his/her
official duties while working as a City employee.

Since  Combs was not a paid contractor or consultant when he approached Mayor Strickland and Councilmember Manthou regarding the Tacoma Dome Market Feasibility
Study, Mr. Combs is outside the reach ofthe jurisdiction of the City’s Code of Ethics. Given the lack of jurisdiction over this matter, a disposition of dismissal is

Part of the ethics code regarding jurisdictional issues that Storwick-Stafford cited was revised by the City Council in March 2011, about seven weeks before Combs’ retirement.  Before the changes — which were recommended by the city’s Board of Ethics following a comprehensive code review — the city rule that barred employees from city activities for a year applied to any former employee, whether they were being paid or not (Here’s a link to the code before last year’s revisions; see 1.46.030, L 2 a and b).

Based on the investigation’s findings, City Manager T.C. Broadnax dismissed Hathaway’s complaint on Feb. 24.  The city’s full review of the matter can be found here.

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