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UPDATED: Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner cancels nonprofit agreements, keeps official fined over ethics

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 28, 2013 at 9:00 am with No Comments »
March 29, 2013 12:46 pm
Bernie Warner

Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner says he has reprimanded an official who was fined for an ethics violation, but won’t fire her as requested by a state lawmaker.

Warner wrote to Sen. Mike Carrell this week telling him about his decision, a month after the Executive Ethics Board handed down its $13,400 fine on Belinda Stewart.

Stewart has appealed the fine, the ethics board said today.

“What I told the senator is I certainly share his expectations in having the highest standards of ethics and accountability for state employees,” Warner told me, outlining steps he’s taken to address ethics and Stewart’s case since taking over the Corrections Department in 2011:

  • Reassigned Stewart from her position of communications and outreach director to a lower-paying job dealing with prison visitation, volunteers and matters of gender and religion. Her salary dropped from $98,940 to $82,284, Warner said.
  • Canceled agency policies that allowed employees to work on behalf of three nonprofits: the Washington Corrections Association, the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice and the National Association of Women in Criminal Justice.  Stewart was accused of improperly working on behalf of the latter two groups using state resources, but the ethics board cleared her on those counts. She did spend work time on the agencies, but the department under former Secretary Eldon Vail knew about and even belatedly approved the work.
  • Revised the agency’s ethics policies with approval from the ethics board.
  • Brought the ethics board in for training of top officials.

Warner said he has given Stewart a letter of reprimand. His main objection was the ethics board’s finding that she had 576 items stored in an e-mail folder on her work computer that were related to her outside employment with a federal agency.

Stewart was paid $2,800 a year to teach a “new warden” class for the National Institute of Corrections. She took leave from her job to do the training but was using state resources, the board found.

I haven’t been able to reach Carrell for comment. The Lakewood Republican is ailing and has been absent from the Legislature while recovering.

UPDATE 6 p.m.: Carrell posted a statement to his website along with the letter from Warner (below). He said he favors blocking Senate confirmation of Warner for the second year in a row unless the secretary fires Stewart.

“Even without confirmation he can continue as acting secretary, but in my opinion his confirmation depends on Belinda’s termination,” Carrell wrote.


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