Evan Thompson / The Record — Langley Mayor Tim Callison was the subject of the Langley Ethics and Training Advisory Board’s latest advisory opinion, which examined his interactions with the newspaper in March.

Langley’s ethics board concludes mayor’s bill to newspaper was ‘misdirected’

The Langley Ethics and Training Advisory Board determined that Mayor Tim Callison’s invoice to the newspaper was not unethical.

The ethics board examined both Callison’s decision to forward a bill to The Record for speaking with the city attorney and his request that the paper only contact him through city hall and not on his personal cell phone. The five members of the board — Bob Frause, Sharon Betcher, Monica Guzman, Fred Herzon and Bob French — determined that Callison’s action to send the invoice for attorney’s fees was “misdirected” and “not the model of open communication and transparency to which our city aspires.” The ethics board did not, however, conclude that it was retaliatory, because Callison’s actions could also be interpreted as protecting the resources of the city.

“Our belief and opinion is that there were no preconceived retaliatory actions regarding the two actions,” said Frause, chairman of the board. “It’s just not there.”

“Retaliatory means there’s some kind of vendetta or a feud. That’s not even close,” he added.

Callison declined to comment about the intricacies of the advisory opinion, but said that “they did their job” in a phone interview Friday morning.

The board also opined that Callison was within his rights to ask The Record to only contact him through his office phone, and that he was not failing to yield his private interests “to the greater civic environment.” The board also noted that it was a change in practice from prior interactions with the media, when Callison used to allow reporters to call his cell phone.

Frause said the board’s conclusion on this particular matter was based both on an assumption and “what the mayor wanted.” In the advisory opinion, the board wrote that tensions were running high around the sanctuary city topic and that his decision “might represent an appropriate move to develop work-life balance.” Callison also wrote to Frause in an email on April 6 that he is not required to make his personal device available for the community with citizens or others.

While sending an invoice for attorney’s fees to The Record was not considered unethical, the board did find that Callison’s behavior was inconsistent with the foundational aspirations of the city’s code of conduct. It is the second time Callison’s actions have been labeled as such, following the ethics board’s third advisory opinion which partly examined Callison’s confrontation with a Langley resident over his absence from a community sanctuary city meeting.

Frause said that Callison’s effort to reconcile his actions through statements via social media were acknowledged by the board and his “moral reflection on his own behavior.”

The board used several different sources of information for its opinion, including correspondence with Callison, reporting by the media and statements on social media, Frause said.

The advisory opinion came at the request of Langley resident Sharon Emerson, a former mayoral candidate and at times vocal critic of city hall. She alleged that Callison’s actions were in retaliation against the paper for “unfavorable coverage” in the past.

Emerson, while understanding of the difficulties that came with the ethics board’s advisory opinion, wishes the board had conducted more investigation into the matter. She said she had asked the board to consider if any other entities were asked not to call the mayor at home or had been billed for asking questions of the city.

“This would be evidence of retaliatory motivation, or lack of it, depending on the answer,” Emerson wrote in an email. “The board chose not to address this, for some reason, but to just accept the mayor’s stated reasons. I would have thought they would go beyond that.”

Emerson also said that it is critical for those dealing with the city to be protected from retaliatory actions by city personnel. She also hopes that in the future the ethics board will go beyond accepting what city officials say and seek out all available evidence before forming their opinions.

“It’s a hard job, but important,” Emerson wrote.

Frause said the role of the ethics board first and foremost is delivering ethics education, training and advice under the current municipal code statue. He also said that there are only six principles of conduct in the city code’s preamble, purpose and value statements in which a city official’s actions can be considered unethical. They include conflict of interest, confidentiality, improper influence, misuse of public resources, representation of private interests and workplace harassment and discriminations.