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Langley changes course, agrees to reinstate ethics board

Langley City Councilwoman Margot Jerome discusses the city’s adopted ethics policy at a meeting in Langley last week. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Langley City Councilwoman Margot Jerome discusses the city’s adopted ethics policy at a meeting in Langley last week.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Heeding the words of ethics commission members, the Langley City Council agreed to reinstate the formation of a standing ethics board for at least one year. Ben Watanabe / The Record | Ursula Roosen, a member of the ethics commission, speaks to the city council about its ethics policy.

After a two-hour workshop Wednesday to address concerns raised by members of the city-created ethics commission — the group that created the city’s ethics policy — the council concluded a non-judicial advisory ethics board would serve the city well.

Behind the ethics policy, the commission and the upcoming board, is the city’s recent run-in with ethical issues such as former mayor Larry Kwarsick who admitted to falsifying a city document that eliminated permit requirements for a family member’s home construction project. The alleged crime occurred when he was the city’s director of community planning, not when he was the elected mayor.

“We have to acknowledge that we had an experience that’s at the center of what we’re doing here,” said Mayor Fred McCarthy, who was appointed by the city council after Kwarsick resigned in January 2013.

McCarthy originally recommended that the city council do away with the standing ethics board. Earlier this year, he said he had concerns over the board’s authority and the city’s ability to fill those positions when other city boards and committees had long-standing vacancies. There were also questions raised by Leo Painton, the police union representative for Langley, over the ethics board’s reach into police business. At the time, the mayor said he didn’t know whether ethics board members would need to be screened with a background check, whether they would be held to confidentiality laws and if the board would have investigatory authority. In the example of a citizen making a complaint about a possible ethics violation by a police officer, McCarthy said the citizen should first address the Langley Police Department.

“My concern as the mayor is that you’d undermine the chain of command or due process,” he said.

That issue appeared to be resolved by adding a clause to an ethics violation reporting form that asks the person filing the document to sign their name, signifying that they exhausted all means of relief to address the issue before seeking the ethics board’s assistance.

A proposal by McCarthy to form the ethics board as needed was rebuffed by the ethics commission members. The mayor’s thought was that an ad-hoc ethics board could be tailored to address a particular incident, and even include a former police officer to deal with law enforcement concerns. But three of the founding ethics commission members argued a standing board would be fully capable of addressing any ethical issue and independently from industry-specific influences. If the board wanted input on the profession, it could seek it as part of its review process, they said.

“If we’re thinking of ethics and an ethical issue, we should be able to handle it,” said Christine Dahlstrom, an ethics commission member.

The city council agreed to form the ethics board with five members, and hoped that some would assist in finding and vetting other applicants.

A one-year evaluation of the ethics board was added to the policy to review whether members felt they were adequately utilized and if it was a useful citizen committee.

Hoping to use their expertise, ethics board members will also be responsible for training city staff and the council on the ethics handbook.

 

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