After 27 interviews, at least four meetings and three investigative trips to the Tri-Cities, the state Legislative Ethics Board has imposed its largest-ever fine against state Rep. Shirley Hankins, R-Richland.
Hankins repeatedly broke state law by using her legislative clout to promoting her daughter's tire-recycling business, trying to steer state business to it and "attempts to intimidate" state environmental officials who raised questions, the board ruled.
Hankins must pay $4,174.62, about half of which is fines and half is the board's investigative costs.
In a statement e-mailed to reporters -- and slipped under my office door, thank you -- Hankins said she's "extremely disappointed" with some of the findings.
"It was never my intent to promote one company over another, but to ensure that the Department of Ecology carried out the job the Legislature asked the agency to do, and that was to dispose of tire piles that constitute a serious environmental threat to the health and safety of our citizens,"she said.
She said she won't contest the board's decision, although she disagrees that she violated state ethics laws. She also says this:
"My intentions have always been toward the greater good of the district. I deepy and humbly apologize to my constituents for any actions that have fallen short of these intentions."
Hankins' daugher, Sherrey Hankins, runs a tire-baling company called NWT.
The ethics board said it didn't find reasonable cause to support allegations that Rep. Hankins leaned on city officials to use her daughter's baled tires at a local shooting range, helped get a local government loan for the business or prodded the Department of Ecology into giving the company a cleanup contract, among other allegations.
But there was reasonable cause to believe the Hankins:
-used her position to get special privileges for the company, including in meetings with city officials about permits and licenses,
-used her office to organize and take part in tours touting her daughter's company,
-and "employed improper means in the use of her legislative office and public resources in attempts to influence and/or intimidate state agency personnel through persistent actions reasonably perceived as threatening."
Hankins "has been unable to appropriately separate her legislative interests in tire recycling from the business interests of NWT," the board said.
(An aside: If there's an award for legal muddiness, it should go to the ethics board, whose ruling actually manages to contain this sentence:
"There is reasonable cause to believe that the following facts are among those which may be identified as the facts of this case.")