Vancouver council to consider new ethics policy

Changes follow verbal fireworks during a September meeting

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer



Public meeting

What: The Vancouver City Council will hold a workshop updating its ethics policy, including councilor conduct.

When: 4 p.m. Monday

Where: City Council Chambers, City Hall, 210 E. 13th St.

The Vancouver City Council is set to rewrite its ethics policy on Monday — a long-expected revision following an ethics investigation of Councilor Jeanne Harris last fall that turned up weaknesses in the council’s policies.

The seven-page City Council Code of Ethics contains revisions to topics including conflict of interest and appearance of impropriety, but most attention and time will likely be spent on one section: Conduct of Council Members.

Residents requested a review of the ethics policy following Harris’ now infamous verbal fireworks with the mayor, Councilor Jeanne Stewart and several citizen speakers during a September 2010 meeting.

At the meeting, Harris ordered Mayor Tim Leavitt to “gavel down” and dismiss an anti-light rail and -tolling speaker from the podium during the citizens’ comment period.

The current council ethics policy, approved in 1999, contains no standards concerning a councilor’s conduct with citizens. It says only: “Council members will at all times treat each other with respect and dignity.”

In October, Harris was found by a council ethics committee — Councilors Jack Burkman, Larry Smith and Pat Campbell — to have violated the city ethics policy by failing to treat Leavitt and Stewart with respect. The city council unanimously agreed to strip her of all council-appointed board and commission positions and offer a letter of reprimand.

The draft revised code to go before the council Monday is much more broad: “Council members shall refrain from abusive conduct, charges of a personal nature or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of other members of council, boards, commissions, committees, city staff, or the public.”

The section contains no specific examples or further definitions of what could be construed as a “verbal attack.”

Leavitt said Thursday that the draft code will probably see some changes.

“I’m sure council will have lots of input,” he said. “We’ve seen this proposed policy several times previously, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more comments from council members.”

One councilor already has raised concerns about the ethics policy — Harris.

In an email to the city council on Wednesday, she called the policy “seriously flawed” and called for a complete redesign.

“No one has solicited feedback from me, I don’t know about other council members,” she wrote. “The current policy has resulted in seriously damaged council relationships and communication.”

Many governments have some form of an ethics and conduct policy; Clark County commissioners must “promote decorum, respect for others and civility in all public relationships.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542, or at