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May 21, 2013 at 6:30 AM
Corrected: Bellevue City Council’s ethics challenge
The Bellevue City Council needs a strong ethics policy because of the size and scope of the city’s responsibilities. Three council members have been investigated and cleared of conflicts of interest in recent years. An outside investigator cleared Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace in 2011 of any conflict between his business dealings and his push to reroute Sound Transit’s future light-rail line in South Bellevue. A Times editorial noted, however, that Wallace should have disclosed his business dealings to the public.
A Seattle Times report on plans by Eastside real-estate developer Kemper Freeman to build a $1.2 billion expansion of his shopping and dining complex in downtown Bellevue is not related to the ethics issue, but news of major developments in the city does heighten the stakes. As this Seattle Times editorial Tuesday noted, the council has spent two years working on rules guiding ethical behavior and potential conflicts of interest for elected officials. Time to act.
The council has been distracted by allegations of ethics violations and conflicts of interests for about as long as the council has been planning a Sound Transit rail line. Two years ago, rancor reached a level where even divided members of the council agreed guidance was needed in the form of an ethics policy. State ethics laws are too broad to address the gray areas that many local elected officials find themselves in. Bellevue has a part-time council and its members hold jobs that sometimes bring them into contact with city planning, zoning and other policies. This Times story outlines an outside investigator’s look in 2011 into potential conflicts of interests involving three council members. All three were absolved, including: Wallace; Claudia Balducci, another current council member, and Grant Degginger, who has since left the council.
The Bellevue council is considering a proposed ordinance borrowed from the Kirkland City Council. Discussion at the last Council study session was long and lively. The agenda packet included a 20-page Q&A on the proposed code of ethics. It is very thorough and worth reading. The council session video is here, with the ethics discussion starting about 40 minutes in. The council is working to strike a balance between a strong policy and one that is not so inflexible that it discourages citizens from serving on the council or on city boards and commissions. Still, the lack of action at the end was disappointing. The proposal is scheduled for the March 28 agenda. The council must act then.
<p class=”note”> Information in this article, originally published May 20, 2013, was corrected May 21, 2013. A previous version of this story incompletely reported an investigation into Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace. The investigation exonerated Wallace of any wrongdoing.</p>