Imagine my surprise this morning when I grabbed The Seattle Times off the front porch, opened it up, then read a story about the ethics dispute at the Bellevue City Council only to discover my name pulled into the fray. Here's part of the story . . .
Unless the City Council approves the contract, [Bellevue Councilmember Kevin Wallace's attorney Mike] McKay said in his letter, the investigation would be "an impermissible interference of the executive branch with the legislative branch."
"How do you think the Seattle City Council would react if Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn commenced an investigation of Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess without the approval of its Council?" McKay wrote. "It would certainly be viewed as an inappropriate incursion on the legislative branch of Seattle's city government."
Well, that wouldn't happen in Seattle. Period. Why? Because in the early 1970s the Seattle City Council established an independent, objective and well-resourced Ethics and Elections Commission and gave it all the necessary powers to conduct ethics investigations of all city employees, including our elected officials.
Not anticipating and not preparing for what's happening across Lake Washington is a serious shortcoming by Bellevue city officials. Like Seattle, every jurisdiction needs a strong ethics law and the means for truly independent ethics investigations.
The Seattle School District found this out recently when their most recent financial scandal became public with reports of internal intimidation and an office culture that discouraged or even blocked employees from raising questions. School Board President Steve Sundquist and Interim Superintendant Susan Enfield quickly recognized the need for outside eyes to handle ethics training and investigations. The City is about to finalize what's called an "interlocal agreement" that will give our Commission the authority to rewrite the District's ethics code, launch investigations, make findings and recommendations, and receive whistleblower reports. These are moves that will rebuild public trust in the District.
Bellevue officials—as hard as it might be for them to look west for helpful insight—would be wise to establish a similar independent citizen oversight commission to handle ethics violations.