City Council adopts code of ethics they hope they will never need

ARLINGTON – The City Council Monday formally adopted a code of ethics to guide its members in how they should conduct themselves in office, and how unprofessional behavior will be handled if someone steps over the line.

City Attorney Steve Peiffle and City Administrator Paul Ellis added the new language to the Council’s existing procedural rules of professional conduct, which was prompted by an incident involving an outgoing councilmember last year.

Peiffle said while researching several codes of ethics that focused more on financial conflicts of interest that are already handled under state law, he felt the council was looking more toward an “aspirational statement.”

The code of ethics as adopted touches on personal integrity, avoiding the appearance of impropriety, treating others respectfully and refraining from abusive conduct, accusations or verbal attacks while in their role as elected officials.

The code also calls for respecting the decision-making process, and conducting themselves professionally, courteously and attentively when discussing business at hand. Additionally, the ethics code says city elected officials should base their decisions on the merits and substance of the matter at hand, rather than on unrelated considerations.

If a Council member violates a rule, the presiding officer can call that member to order, who must then be silent except to explain, or continue in order. If the presiding officer is the violator in question, any other council member may step in to call that fellow elected official to order.

Additional consequences may include a verbal admonition, written reprimand, censure, expulsion from the meeting at which the conduct is occurring, removal of the Councilmember from committee chair positions or committee memberships, or removal of intergovernmental duties, based on an affirmative vote of a majority of the council.

Banishment for such behavior in the council’s presence will require a majority vote from the council.

Peiffle pointed out that, short of removal from office, the council already has power under state law to impose punishment on its members for violating council rules or state law.

City Councilmember Debra Nelson said her intent bringing the matter forward last November was for the council to have tools that lay out expectations of themselves when conducting the citizens’ business, a code of behavior, and steps for what happens next if a member violates the rules.

Councilmember Jan Schuette said, “Hopefully we’ll never have to refer to it (the ethics code). But at least we’ve got something in there now, and we didn’t before.”

Councilmember Mike Hopson said his rule of thumb in meetings and workshop: “That you don’t interrupt people, don’t start calling people names; all that bad stuff that just looks terrible and is really out of line.”

Councilmember Jesica Stickles offered whether a “no” vote on a meeting agenda item should come with an explanation for other officials to better understand the reasoning – political or otherwise. Fellow councilmembers thought a directive bumped up against freedom of expression.

Schuette said, “Anytime I have voted ‘no’ on something, I can assure you the council’s going to know why I did it.”

In other Council actions:

* Approved a request for bidders to replace the City Council Chamber’s microphone system, which may run up to $30,000 for the related equipments, installation and training. The existing system was installed when the building opened in 2005 and has since become outdated and prone to cutting out, with worn, messy cabling strewn on the floor another challenge . The Information Technology director is recommending a wireless system with 12 new tabletop microphone and charging stations that will integrate with the room’s other existing hardware. Proposals would come in March, with installation and a usable system in place by mid-April.

* Accepted dedication of right-of-way on 180th Street from the SmartCAP building and on 63rd Avenue from the new Dantrawl Fisheries & Industrial Supplies company to put in a trail extending through the business park located east of Arlington Airport.

* Appointed Jan Berg to the Planning Commission. Berg has been involved in municipal government for over 30 years, with eight serving as city administrator Lake Stevens. She was also involved in that city’s planning activities including the 20-year comprehensive plan update, two subarea plans and major annexations.

* Approved replacing Arlington Fire District’s Medic #48 unit for $236,000. The 2014 International with just over 100,000 miles was set to be replaced this year. To save $50,000, the district is removing the patient area “box” off the existing EMS unit, then updating and remounting it on a new chassis.