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Aug. 14, 2022

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Former Tri-Cities mayor to pay half maximum fine allowed in Washington ethics complaint settlement

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KENNEWICK — Former Kennewick Mayor Don Britain will pay $5,000 to settle an ethics complaint violation filed against him with the Washington State Executive Ethics Board over his actions in his previous state job.

Britain asked to enter settlement negotiations after the board found reasonable cause nearly a year ago to believe he violated several sections of the state Ethics in Public Service Act.

Britain denies the allegations.

“I needed to put this chapter behind me for the good of my health and move forward with my life,” he told the Tri-City Herald. He was treated for throat cancer toward the end of his time as mayor.

Britain was Kennewick mayor until he lost the November election for a city council seat to Gretl Crawford, who is now mayor pro tem.

He was fired from his job as a Washington state Department of Social and Health Services in fall 2019 for violating ethical standards after a civil investigation by the Washington State Patrol into a complaint he had an inappropriate relationship with one of his clients.

The $5,000 Britain agreed to pay was half the maximum for which the board could have fined him. The board also could have recovered any damages to state taxpayers and the cost of the investigation, under state law.

In the settlement Britain agrees there is sufficient evidence to determine he violated Washington state law.

They include prohibitions against state employees conducting activities incompatible with their duties; prohibitions against securing special privileges; and prohibitions against using state resources for personal benefit.

Julie Eisentrout, Washington assistant attorney general, told the board at a Friday meeting that there were aggravating factors in the case.

The types of violations for which Britain was accused reduce public respect and confidence in state government employees and the violation was continuous, she said.

Allegations against Don Britain

Eisentrout reviewed the WSP investigation report for the board, saying it revealed numerous incidents in which Britain did not follow state policies while working with a client.

He cosigned and renewed an apartment lease with the client, and she lived with him without paying rent in 2019, Eisentrout said. He did not inform his supervisor that they were living together.

Britain has maintained that he was trying to help the client when she needed housing and their relationship was not romantic.

The client also went along when he went on a vacation to Hawaii. She asked to come and he used personal airline miles he had accumulated to buy her a ticket.

But Britain says they did not stay together or spend time together while in Hawaii, Eisentrout said.

The state patrol investigation also found he did not follow state policy when issuing her a gas and other benefit cards and approving vouchers for supplies for a welding class she was taking that the state paid for, Eisentrout said.

The supplies he approved allegedly included 12 sets of welding gloves in various sizes, according to a WSP document.

Ethics board staff also reviewed Britain’s use of his DSHS computer, which was owned by the state.

On his work computer were documents related to his client’s course work, his divorce, employment outside the DSHS, a condominium he owned in Hawaii and a letter to the editor supporting the election of Washington state Sen. Sharon Brown, Eisentrout said.

Britain has said previously that occasional use of a state computer for personal use is allowed and that the files found on his computer were from activity over nearly 10 years.

Past ethics sanction attempts

Pasco activist Roger Lenk filed the complaint against Britain with the State Executive Ethics Board in March 2021, but died in December before it was resolved.

While still the mayor, Britain also faced a complaint filed under the city ethics policy about his conduct at his DSHS job. It was dismissed after a finding that he could not be sanctioned for actions that did not directly relate to his actions as a councilman.

He also faced a recall attempt over his conduct at DSHS, but it was thrown out by a Benton County Superior Court judge before signatures could be gathered.

After the Friday state ethics board meeting Britain said that even though he denies the allegations “I agreed to settle with the board because the allegations made pertained to events almost three years old, some over eight years old.”

He said he continues to recover from cancer and has returned to work.

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