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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane mayor proposes city ethics ‘upgrade’

Spokane Mayor David Condon proposed Monday an overhaul of the city’s ethics committee, saying the decade-old body needs an “upgrade” to give citizens “the assurance of transparency.”

Condon said no particular incident motivated him to pursue the move and that he had not witnessed any breaches in ethics while mayor.

City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, who is leading the effort, said the current rules governing the ethics of elected officials and city employees is “vague” and simply not strong enough.

“You can breach ethics and not break a law,” Isserlis said, noting that the committee hasn’t found anyone guilty of ethics violations in its history. “This cleans up some of the nuances.”

Among the changes Isserlis said she’ll seek for the city’s ethics code:

• Expand the code’s scope to cover all elected officials, city employees and members of the city’s boards and commissions.

• Refine what type of employment people can have after leaving City Hall. Isserlis acknowledged the city couldn’t bar someone from a certain job but could decline to work with a city contractor if they hire someone in violation of the ethics code.

• Define what gifts people at City Hall can receive. The general rule now excludes gifts of more than $50.

• Expand penalties for breaches of ethics policy, including criminal charges.

• Add a review and appeal process before the City Council and Superior Court.

• Create a staff director for the ethics commission, who would be appointed by the city attorney.

Isserlis said she is looking at ethics laws in places such as King County, Tacoma and Denver, among others. But a lot of the groundwork for the eventual ordinance was laid over the summer by Lauryn Ticknor, a law student at Gonzaga University.

The ordinance will have to be approved by the City Council, which Isserlis said she expects sometime early next year. After that, it has to be agreed to by the city’s bargaining units.

Isserlis doesn’t expect any problems, saying the rules simply reflect what most people learned in kindergarten.

“It’s basically codifying good behavior,” she said.