Spokane City Councilman Ben Stuckart was fined $250 for violating the city's ethics code, but committee members said his action did not financially harm the city.
Stuckart was referred to the committee for leaking what city officials called a “highly confidential email regarding a pending matter of litigation” with a subject line that read: “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED Appeal Decision.”
The matter was referred to the city’s Ethics Committee earlier this month by City Attorney Nancy Isserlis.
"They decided that, yes, they have jurisdiction," said Mike Piccolo, a city attorney who advises the City Council and sat in on the ethics committee hearing. "They decided that, yes, if the actions in the referral were determined to be true, they violated the city’s ethics code."
Piccolo said the committee decided that it was hard to determine if Stuckart's actions caused any monetary harm to the city, so it was difficult to impose any monetary penalties.
Based on the discussion, Stuckart and the committee agreed to a "stipulation," which means that by admitting fault, Stuckart could avoid a full-blown committee hearing. The stipulation, however, required a fine, which ended up being determined by Stuckart.
"It took about an hour. They decided I had violated the ethics code, but I hadn’t harmed the city, and they fined me $250," Stuckart said. "I suggested the $250."
In her letter to the Ethics Committee, Isserlis said the matter of Stuckart's ethics violation “came to my attention inadvertently” when she was performing an investigation about an alleged city code violation at the request of Don Waller, president of Local 29, the city’s fire union.
During this investigation, she found an email Stuckart had forwarded to Waller written by Erin Jacobson, an attorney with the city. Jacobson’s email dealt with pending litigation against the city by the fire union regarding the mayor’s plan to create departments with a fire division. The mayor’s move would have allowed him to appoint people to positions instead of having them go through a civil service process leading to union-protected jobs.
Jacobson’s email was sent to the mayor and council members.
“Within twenty minutes of receipt of Ms. Jacobson’s email, Council President Stuckart forwarded the email, in its entirety, to Mr. Waller at his personal email address,” Isserlis wrote in her referral. “I believe Mr. Stuckart was aware he was forwarding confidential information to the party opposing the City in pending litigation.”
When the referral was made, Stuckart made a public apology and admitted fault.
This story is developing. Check back later for updates.