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Langley Ethics Commission aims to settle conflicts of interest

Langley City Councilman Hal Seligson is one of many city officials casting support behind a recently penned code of ethics. - Record file
Langley City Councilman Hal Seligson is one of many city officials casting support behind a recently penned code of ethics.
— image credit: Record file

On the heels of a mayor’s resignation, a specially-created Langley commission is close to finishing a 25-page code of ethics for the city.

The Langley City Council received a brief update from the Ethics Commission’s facilitator, Mary Boyd, pastor of Langley United Methodist Church, last month and is set to have a workshop on the code in early October.

The commission was created in the wake of former Mayor Larry Kwarsick’s resignation after he was charged with falsifying a city document when he worked as city planner in 2011.

The permit in question concerned a relative’s home. Kwarsick admitted to falsifying the document and received 15 days in Island County jail, which he served this past February.

“One cannot avoid the fact that we did have a bit of a controversy last year, which I think was harmful to people’s faith in government,” said Councilman Hal Seligson, who assumed his duties as mayor pro tem while the mayor’s office was vacant from early January until mid-February. “We came through that and are rebuilding. It did have to do with an ethical lapse. This is a sign of making sure everyone understands what’s expected.”

Langley’s code of ethics, titled “A Guide to Ethical Conduct for Langley Officials & Employees and for People Doing Business with Langley,” states in its introduction that most of the guide deals with conflicts of interest as that’s “where most ethical missteps are made.”

One example of the city seeking to specify conflicts of interest is against the acceptance of gifts, cash, paid outings, paid travel, concert and sport tickets from a person or entity seeking a financial benefit from the city by a Langley official, employee or consultant or their partner.

“Putting it up in a city where everyone has a relationship is very, very valuable,” said Mayor Fred McCarthy.

Two items later, the code addresses personal relationships between city officials and people they work with on a professional basis. Basically, the mayor can still have friends and get a birthday gift from them, as long as the mayor is not advising on or participating in a decision-making process.

“Human nature being what it is, it’s good for people to have rules that are clear,” said Seligson, who has championed open government since he was appointed to office in 2011.

“It might save us in the future from going through difficult times … Faith in government is at an all-time low.”

A group of nine volunteers have worked on the code since late March when they were appointed by Mayor Fred McCarthy. At the time, the commission was on a five-month timeline to establish the code and present it to the city council. Langley’s leaders scheduled the Oct. 4 workshop to have a better look at the code with the commission members, who will be able to explain some of the legal language in clearer detail.

Seligson said he believed an acknowledgement or agreement form would be required for city officials, employees and contractors once the code of ethics is approved by the city council. Violation of an ethical issue could be grounds for termination, he said.

The long road to mapping out right and wrong conduct for City Hall’s business may come to a close next month, and though the damage was done, Langley’s leaders hope this is another step to rebuilding public confidence in its government.

“I can’t say if we had had such written codes in place that certain things wouldn’t have happened,” Seligson said. “I tend to think it would have been less likely to if we had written in clear detail what is right.”

 

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