Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart is the subject of a possible ethics violation for leaking what city officials call a “highly confidential email regarding a pending matter of litigation.”
The matter was referred to the city’s Ethics Committee Thursday by City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, and Stuckart already has retained an attorney to represent him.
In her letter to the Ethics Committee, Isserlis said the matter “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. The subject line read: “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED Appeal Decision.”
“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.”
Stuckart said Friday he couldn’t give too many details because of attorney-client privileges, but said he knew he had acted inappropriately.
“I shouldn’t have done that. But nothing was affected by that,” he said, noting that Isserlis’ action “isn’t a complaint. It’s a referral.”
Mayor David Condon said he was focused on cutting the cost of government and creating a balanced budget, and part of that was working in good faith while negotiating with unions.
“You hope that everybody plays by the rules,” he said. “It’s disappointing to see that there may have been a breach on that.”
Stuckart’s attorney, Brian McClatchey, rejected the notion that Stuckart violated city law.
“At this stage, it’s not even a formal complaint,” he said. “Having seen what happened, I can tell you that I think there wasn’t any violation. Even if there was, it was such a small effect the commission has the authority to dismiss it.”
He said the email Stuckart forwarded contained no information that wasn’t already known.
“All of this was publicly known,” he said. “Go back and look at The Spokesman or the Inlander articles. The mayor and his spokespeople were saying these things anyway.”
“I don’t even remember it,” he said about the email. “It didn’t mean anything to us. We already knew the city was going to appeal it.”
Waller said he didn’t think Stuckart “did anything morally or ethically wrong.” He added, “I think it’s just trying to put a stain on somebody for other issues.”
Stuckart and McClatchey also suggested there was a double standard at the city’s legal department by pointing to the leak of the Spokane Police Guild union contract last year by Steve Salvatori, who resigned this year after his business moved to Texas. Salvatori shared parts of the contract with the Center for Justice and, McClatchey suggests, with the Inlander.
“Last year, Salvatori leaked the contract with the Police Guild,” Stuckart said. “Nothing happened there. There was no referral to the Ethics Committee.”
Salvatori said he didn’t know the particulars of Stuckart’s case and so would not comment on it.
“I shared some information I had gotten outside of executive session. It was a couple of pages of a draft that had no real economics in it,” he said. “No one ever accused me of leaking confidential information. … The administration wasn’t happy about it, but to be honest I wasn’t too happy with them.”
McClatchey said he and Stuckart are taking the matter seriously and hoped to deal with the “distraction” soon.
“Our next step is to talk to the commission on this informal referral,” he said, adding that he hopes to meet with Ethics Committee members next week, but said there was no official timeline for the matter.
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