Washougal revisits ethics after flap

Two councilmen walked out of meeting in April

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Two months after two Washougal councilmen staged a controversial walkout during a council meeting, city officials are once again discussing the topic that preceded their departure.

Jon Russell and Michael Delavar, the councilors who left the April 4 meeting, are now helping to spearhead the push for the city to adopt an ethics policy. Each man said his actions did not reflect their views toward such a policy.

Washougal has an ethics policy for city employees but not elected officials. Such a policy would work in conjunction with state ethics laws to provide officials a set of guidelines and ideals, said Delavar, who headed the ethics committee that wrote the policy.

Council members discussed a proposed code of ethics for elected officials at a June 13 workshop. The code will be up for a vote at Monday’s council meeting.

The Washougal Code of Ethics authored by the ethics committee has seven chief tenets, after slight revisions during Monday night’s workshop. They include such concepts as serving the best interests of the people, being open and accountable to the public and seeking no favor from outside sources.

The “no favor” portion has seven points of its own, including one for personal relationships. Officials are required to disclose any relationship where there could be the appearance of conflict.

Delavar and council members Molly Coston and Jennifer McDaniel served on the ethics committee. The entire council voted two weeks after the walkout to appoint the ethics committee members and define the committee’s mission and deadline.

Prior to Monday’s workshop, Russell said he would support the policy.

“It upholds transparency and accountability so there are no conflicts of interest,” he said, citing the “no favor” section.

Mayor Sean Guard has sought an ethics policy since taking office in 2009. He ramped up his push for the document in April after Russell made critical comments about him and other council members on his personal blog and newspaper websites.

The proposed ethics policy does not contain any mention of social media or define what is appropriate online interaction between council members and the public.

Guard declined comment on the ethics policy Tuesday via email.

“It is really something that I asked the council to review,” he wrote, “and it is their work and deliberations coming back through.”

Despite the protests of Russell and Delavar, the Washougal council approved the formation of an ethics committee April 4. The matter had not been on that night’s agenda. The two disagreed with the decision to add it and then voted for it, with two members, Jennifer McDaniel and Dave Shoemaker, not present due to excused absences.

Russell and Delavar left the meeting after a disagreement over how members of the ethics committee would be selected. Delavar maintains he and Russell acted correctly. At the time, Guard and other council members criticized the move, noting it made the city look bad.

Not so, Delavar said. The council’s city business was done for the night, he noted.

Their decision to leave the meeting would not violate any portions of the proposed ethics code, Delavar said. He noted their actions were in keeping with Robert’s Rules of Order, a widely used book on governing meetings.

“Basically, our presence during a meeting or lack of presence during a meeting is the choice of an individual, not a compulsion,” he said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517, ray.legendre@columbian.com, www.twitter.com/col_smallcities, www.facebook.com/raylegend