Council needs a conduct code
July 3, 2008 · Updated 11:53 PM
I would like to set a story straight. I initiated the proposal of an Oak Harbor Council Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics and I still believe we need one. I did so for two main reasons. One, if the city employees have a code then so should the council members, removing any perception of a dual standard. Secondly, in recent months I am aware that some council members, through quotes in the local newspapers, have exhibited behavior very close to if not violating state law.
Whether the actions of possible violation of state law are true or not, is history for now, yet, when just one law, RCW 42.30.110, is not understood, it and others need to be emphasized or explained further. This law is part of the state mandated ethics code for city officials which forbids the disclosure of the subject matter, topics and words used in executive sessions, which has been repeatedly affirmed in court. Ironically, until recently several of my colleagues did not know or realize the severity of a breach of this veil of silence which does not have to but could be grounds for censure or removal from office, by law. This is just one example.
My intention for a code is to ensure that each elected member realizes the laws that pertain to their office and their responsibilities, preventing a plea of ignorance. This is so taxpayers monies can be protected and spent for the best use of the city, not for possible litigation brought about by violations of state law stemming from headlines and name exposure in the newspapers in the guise of communicating.
There has never been any intention on my part to limit anyones right to free speech. By our sworn oath of office we, council members, choose to abide by all federal and state Laws as publicly elected officials and some of the laws do limit public officials. We swore to abide by them all, not those we pick and choose. We are not above the laws; we are to abide by them. By not abiding, we could cause a financial loss to the city and as officers, we have a duty to prevent that harm.
Again, a council code would help members have the appropriate references in one accessible document. Several members even today, do not know how to locate that information for themselves as they are throughout the RCWs. A code would also ensure better accountability to the public. An Oak Harbor Council Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics would collate the laws and reaffirm the important behavior required by law and expected by the public.
The Oak Harbor Council has been confronted with some critical issues in the two years I have been a member. More than 98 percent of all the issues are conducted outside of executive session; those are open to debate and the Public Meetings Act in all aspects. To jeopardize the city on those few restricted issues that are later made public before there is action, is not governing responsibly. All final actions are done in a public setting; there is always time for news. There are rights and protections that pertain to employees that cannot be eliminated by council, nor should they. Council does not evaluate, hire or fire employees those are the mayors responsibility within the rules of employment. It is a very slippery slope to insinuate that everyone should have rights over that of the individual as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
As council members, we have been entrusted to do our job as professionals in the best interest of the city. We are representatives of all the citizens, not select groups. We are there to make decisions in a fair, unbiased and lawful arena. To that end, we are public officials; each entrusted to honor our oath and the laws of the United States, the State of Washington and the ordinances and rules of the City of Oak Harbor on behalf of the citizens.
Sue Karahalios is a member of the Oak Harbor City Council.