Ethics complaints against Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilman Steve Salvatori were thrown out Wednesday.
The panel deadlocked 3-3, however, on whether Salvatori’s membership on boards that received thousands of dollars originally allocated for a council staff assistant violated conflict-of-interest rules. One committee member was absent and complaints receiving anything less than a majority vote of the panel are dismissed.
“Although (city) council policy was followed, it’s clear there’s questions about how the expenditures were made,” said Ethics Committee Chairman Troy Bruner, who felt Salvatori’s involvement with organizations he asked that city money be diverted to could give the appearance of a conflict. “It’s true that Councilman Salvatori didn’t benefit in any direct way, but his name was attached to those monies.”
Committee member Monica Holland also was concerned about the appearance issue.
“It, arguably, could look like you’re currying favor with your constituents,” Holland said. “I’m not saying that’s what happened … but I wonder about that appearance.”
The complaint was lodged by former Council President Joe Shogan, who argued that Salvatori failed to properly disclose his membership on the board of directors of a business development group called the Spokane Angel Alliance before requesting that $5,000 be sent to the group. Stuckart was named in the complaint because he signed off on the deal, though the committee considered only Salvatori’s role in the redirected spending.
Both council members insist they followed proper and established procedures for budget transfers and minor contracts falling below the threshold requiring competitive bidding.
During the Wednesday meeting, it was disclosed that Salvatori also had connections to two other groups that received money, the University District Development Association, which received $20,000, and a program benefiting the West Central Community Center, which received $5,000.
Salvatori had turned down a full-time assistant that all council members were provided this year and arranged to have the $50,000 allocated for the position sent to community groups of his choosing. Stuckart agreed to the request and took care of the budget transfers and contracting arrangements in his role as council president, which is considered a department head.
About $15,000 was used to pay for increasing the number of days homeless warming shelters could operate during the cold winter months and $5,000 was sent to a Spokane Police Department youth outreach program.
Shogan acknowledged that the city’s procedures may have been followed but contends it still violated the city’s conflict-of-interest rules, which were drafted during his tenure on the City Council. He added, however, that proposed changes in budget rules Stuckart has promised to introduce would address the problems he’s raised.
Other members of the Ethics Committee said they understood the concerns being raised but felt they didn’t violate the specific sections of the ethics code cited in the complaint.
Separate ethics complaints against Stuckart and Salvatori alleging that the redirected city spending amounted to illegal gifts of public funds were unanimously dismissed by the committee.
Stuckart said he was pleased with Monday’s outcome.
“I just appreciate the time and effort that our volunteer boards and committees contribute,” he said.
Salvatori said he also appreciated the efforts of the committee to review the complaint.
“I think from my standpoint, I asked in advance before I did anything and I followed the policy that was outlined for me,” he said. “If that can be improved or needs to be improved, let’s improve it.”
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