Commission considering changes to city ethics committee rules

This article was updated June 4 to correct when the commission would actually vote on the ordinance change.

The City Commission is scheduled to consider changes to the rules and procedures for the ethics committee during its June 4 meeting.

The proposed changes are intended to make the process more clear and to replace the committee’s two part determination with a single determination on whether an ethics complaint appears to be substantiated and if so, refer the matter to the county attorney or to an employee’s supervisor for disposition.

The commission accepted the changes on first reading and will consider adopting the ordinance change during the June 18 meeting.

City ethics committee to consider rule, procedure changes

In mid-May the three members of the Ethics Committee met to consider staff’s proposed changes and voted to recommend that the City Commission approve the changes.

During that meeting, City Attorney Sara Sexe said that after the committee’s first hearing in February, staff and outside counsel recognized shortcomings in the process. Sexe worked with outside counsel Jordan Crosby as well as City Clerk Liza Kunz, Assistant City Attorney Joe Cik and Krista Artis from the city manager’s office to make adjustments.

“How would we know until we it once,” asked Katrina Stark, a member of the ethics committee.

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Sexe said that staff is recommending changes to put more effort on the front end of the process so everyone understands the complaint and allows the subject of the complaint to respond.

State law allows local governments to create three-member ethics boards to address ethics complaints against elected officials and employees within its purview.

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The committee meets on an as needed basis when complaints are referred to it. That can create situations when a committee member is unavailable or any time a member might have a conflict of interest with a complaint its being asked to evaluate creating the possibility for a split vote.

The committee also accepted a change that was suggested by City Commissioner Mary Moe to allow the committee to appoint an alternate member to address those situations.

“I think it’s prudent,” said Carl Rostad, ethics committee member.

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Staff has developed formal ethics complaint forms that ask for a detailed complaint and any supporting evidence. They’ve also created a response form for the subject of the complaint to provide a written response and evidence.

That will allow staff to better review complaints, determine if they need to be referred to the committee and allow for a better hearing process for all parties, staff said. It will also make it more clear when complaints are unsubstantiated.

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The forms will also allow parties to assert a privacy right, which the committee will have to consider, within applicable law, outweighs the public’s right to know, Sexe said.

During the May 17 ethics committee hearing, Moe said she was pleased with the changes that had been made.

In public meetings this spring, she had had expressed issues with the committee and suggested that perhaps it was not needed.