This morning the Council’s Governance, Equity and Technology Committee once again took up the issue of a proposed change to the city ethics code to align it better with a district-based Council.
As I’ve written about before, the current issue driving this is Council member Bagshaw’s participation in deliberations surrounding the proposed Waterfront LID. Because she owns property in the LID assessment area, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) has ruled that under the current Ethics Code she is required to recuse herself from participating in the discussions. But many have argued that this disenfranchises the residents of her district (the majority of the LID area) from representation on an issue that affects them disproportionately. The SEEC is sympathetic to that view, but has been struggling to find a revision to the ethics code that will allow Bagshaw to participate without substantially weakening the ethical standard in place.
Last month they settled on a new strategy, based on California’s ethics code: providing an exemption “if the legislative matter establishes taxes, fees, rates or for utilities, other public services or facilities rates that are applied equally, proportionally or by the same percentage to the elected officials.” This leaves the current rules in place for zoning, permitting and other real estate matters. And under the SEEC’s proposed amendment, elected officials would still need to disclose their financial interest each time they participate in deliberations or voting.
The SEEC added another change into its proposed amendment, which allowed for exemptions for “any other similar circumstance as may be prescribed by rule by the Ethics and Elections Commission.” That effectively delegates to the SEEC broad authority to issue exemptions. This did not sit well with Council President Harrell, who stated his preference that any additional exemptions be decided upon by the Council itself to ensure transparency and accountability. He challenged the SEEC Chair and Executive Director to justify the broad delegation of this authority, and when they were unable to offer a plausible justification he struck that section from the bill.
The amended change to the ethics code was voted out of committee this morning, and will come before the full Council for final passage next Monday afternoon. This time, it’s likely to pass — just in time for Bagshaw to vote on a resolution declaring the Council’s intent to establish the waterfront LID.