Spin Control

Ethics Committee: Fagan has right to call Inslee "lying whore"

Councilman Mike Fagan was within his rights to call Gov. Jay Inslee “a lying whore,” the Spokane Ethics Committee ruled on Wednesday.

The committee voted unanimously that the slur, which was part of a letter signed by Fagan and two others, didn’t violate city ethics rules because of the inability to establish that it harmed the city. They also said that Fagan’s free speech rights likely trump the ethics code.

“We can’t really tell a public official what they can and cannot say,” said Committee member Monica Holland. “Political speech is one of the most protected types of speech that we have in this country. So while the conduct may be perceived to be unprofessional and unbecoming to a publicly elected official and perhaps reflect badly on our city, I don’t know that we can really enforce anything, because it’s free speech at the end of the day.”

Fagan and two other co-directors of a group that advocates for lower taxes called Inslee “a lying whore” in a fundraising letter mass emailed in February. Fagan, his father, Jack Fagan, and Tim Eyman are the co-directors of Voters Want More Choices, which works to place initiatives on the statewide ballot.

Spokane resident Kris Byrum, a Democratic Party precinct committee officer, filed the complaint against Fagan on Feb. 28.

He alleged that Fagan violated city rules barring officials from “professional activity” that “might be seen as conflicting” with the official’s “proper discharge of his official duties, the conduct of official city business or as adverse to the interests of the city.”

The other six members of the City Council and Mayor David Condon have said the slur was inappropriate, but Fagan has consistently defended the letter, arguing that he wasn’t acting as a city councilman when it was sent.

“While I would tend to agree that a statement like that shouldn’t come from a city councilman, it didn’t,” he said in February. “It came from the principals of a political action committee whom on their own time, using their own resources sent an email to convey information and express frustration towards another politician who has gained tremendously through lies.”

But the Ethics Committee appeared to reject that argument when it voted 5-1 that it had jurisdiction to consider the case after one member, Stephen Sennett, said Fagan wasn’t acting in his official capacity when he helped crafted the letter.

“A councilmember does represent the community 24-7 in a way,” said Troy Bruner, the chairman of the committee. “However, all of us, regardless of whether we are elected officials, are citizens first with First Amendment rights that, I think it’s safe to say, trump the ethics code.”




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Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt is an assistant city editor.

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