Lynnwood City Council discusses ethics board functions

The Lynnwood City Council at its July 1 work session.

Members of the City of Lynnwood Board of Ethics came to speak to the city council July 1 about the board’s role in handling ethics complaints.

As previously explained by City Clerk Luke Lonie, the council-selected board has “little to no role” in handling complaints as they are instead sent to the board’s retained attorney for analysis and processing. In 2023, the board of ethics attorney was paid $9,611.50 for that work.

Board members are not involved with the complaints unless an appeal is made, but that hasn’t occurred. As a result, the board has not been performing its primary function since it was restarted in 2020. Lonie suggested that the board of ethics be involved in processing ethics complaints and was accompanied by Board Chair Ty Tufono-Chausse and board alternate Keton Handy, who explained their perspective to the council.

Ethics Board Chair Ty Tufono-Chausse, City Clerk Luke Lonie and board alternate member Keton Handy

Tufono-Chausse said that she’d invited speakers from ethics boards across the state to hear about their procedures.

“They [other cities] all aligned. It went to the ethics board first. The ethics board was empowered to decide if it [a complaint] had merit, if it had teeth. They were able to make recommendations, bring it to the city council, to make their suggestions… And if anything was of a legal matter, then we utilize legal [services]. That’s how they save the citizens money. Right now, the current process is so backwards.”  She also added that the current process was not transparent. If  complaints came to the board first, members could analyze trends and bring findings about community perception or concerns to the council if need be.

Councilmember Patrick Decker

Councilmember Patrick Decker was the sole councilmember who spoke against the amendments and began by making some revisions to grammar. He said that, due to possible legal ramifications, he would like to have “legal eyes on the complaint” as soon as possible. He asked Noel Treat,  the board of ethics’ counsel, to confirm the number of cases he’d considered. Treat replied that he recalled about six instances where he reviewed complaints and determined they did not have merit.

“In my experience, I received great counsel from the ethics counsel when I was working on an ethics complaint,” Decker said. “He did a great job of helping me understand my role– what I could, what I could not do, what I could, what I could not say. And getting that directly from legal counsel to me, was invaluable. Hearing that from the ethics board would be useful but I would still want to defer to have an attorney.”.

Tufono-Chausse clarified that the board attorney’s function was not to give legal advice to parties involved in an ethics complaint– complainant and complainee– even if they were councilmembers.

“I would disagree because I sought legal advice from Noel,” Decker replied. “Quite recently, he provided formal, legal advice to a sitting councilmember related to a city matter.” Lonie added  that the board attorney’s function was to legally advise the ethics board and manage the current complaint process.

“Sure, we have the city attorney for other things. But, we have an ethics attorney specifically so when we have an ethics concern, the ethics attorney can provide legal counsel to the city council,” Decker said.

Lonie clarified that the current code delegates that responsibility to the board.

“So you’re telling me neither the board nor the ethics attorney can provide legal counsel related to ethics complaints to the city council?” Decker asked. Lonie said that the council, as individuals who are subject to ethical guidelines, should not be involved with ethics complaints. Decker did not agree with that answer and asked Treat how much time they spent discussing a recent ethics complaint in which Decker was the party complaining about another councilmember.

Ethics board attorney Noel Treat

Treat clarified that his meeting with Decker was a part of the complaint process that brought complainant and complainee together to seek a mutual agreement in an effort to avoid a full-blown trial and other escalations.

“I wouldn’t say it’s legal advice, per se, because it’s not an attorney-client relationship between me and either complainant of complained-of councilmember.” Treat said his role in that process was to explain how things worked and what could happen next.

Decker did not have any other questions at the time, but brought the item back at the end of the meeting for further discussion. He said that, since deliberations by the ethics board were not open to the public, the process was not more transparent as speakers claimed it would be.

“I want to make it really, really clear. The board is appointed by council and council has a lot of influence on that board,” Decker said. “As I mentioned last time, impartiality of a hired, legal professional is valuable when it comes to ethics.” Decker added that board members could be recalled and councilmembers who disagreed with ethics rulings could pressure ethics board members as a result.

Lonie explained that this was the reason that the board of ethics did not have a council liaison in the first place, as most –  if not all – complaints were made about councilmembers or the mayor. At Decker’s suggestion that they could remove the recall process from board policy, Lonie said that the idea could be studied but it was not relevant to the current topic.

Council President George Hurst

Council President George Hurst said councilmembers already have ultimate control over the board because they appointed the board members in the first place – and they should trust their own ability to appoint highly qualified individuals. He added that individuals could also request a public hearing if a matter was elevated to that degree.

Councilmember Nick Coelho

Councilmember Nick Coelho said that the point regarding transparency was related to the democratization of the board’s complaint process. Decker said he needed an explanation of how democratization equated to transparency. Coelho replied that complaints would go to the people as opposed to an attorney who was not appointed by the council. Decker asked how that would help him if he were complained against. Coelho said that it was just his interpretation of the point.

Finance Director Michelle Meyer

In other business, Finance Director Michelle Meyer discussed possible uses for the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Lynnwood has $137,312 of the initial $10.9 million that was granted by the federal program. There have been two requests for the funds, totaling $137,300. One is a $87,000 request from the finance director to extend the term of the part-time accountant currently managing the funds. Meyer explained that the ARPA accountant was a specialized employee with experience in navigating the ins and outs of ARPA policy and money handling, which she described as crucial for the city to  keep the account out of legal trouble. It would also save the finance department time as it would not have to train another staff member.

The other ARPA funding request is $50,300 for Lynnwood Police Department to purchase 10 tasers for new officers. Meyer told the council that the department actually needed more equipment than it asked for, but this request was specifically designed to fit the remaining ARPA budget. Receiving this allocation would ease financial pressure for the department, which is seeking to fill other equipment needs. Both requests will be brought back for a vote.

Meyer also informed the council that Snohomish County was planning to provide the city with some of its own ARPA funding. However, discussions on that allocation will continue in future meetings and were not the focus of Monday’s agenda item.

In addition, Meyer asked for the council’s go-ahead to begin revising Lynnwood Municipal Code sections related to budgeting policy. She explained that certain portions of the code were contradictory and also conflicted with state processes, and so they needed revision. Councilmembers agreed that the code should be reexamined for consistency.

Council Vice President Julieta Altamirano-Crosby was absent from the Monday meeting.

–By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

  1. I’m confused. The bulk of the remaining ARPA funds may be used to continue the employment of the person who manages the funds? Is there enough work left to justify using $87,000 for that?

  2. Suggestion for ARPA funds which are in the best interest of the citizens?.. SLOW DOWN THE TRAFFIC ON OVD between 176th light and 76th at Perrinville. There’s been a Dereliction of Duty by both Lynnwood Public Works and whoever at LPD (who has control!) lets them fly on this stretch. It’s now a laughing, throw up the middle finger situation by the majority of drivers.
    As for Ethics with The City of Lynnwood, that explains some things happening… Do Better!

  3. I appreciate that the ethics discussion presented the model used by other cities — council and ethis board first to see if the complaint seems to have merit — and then passing it along to our expensive attorney for advice if it does. This change would be a good use of our city’s funds.

    I also don’t want part of the ARPA funds to buy the police tasers. I would prefer to see it go to whatever program is helping the police determine whether situations need mental health help or police intervention. I would hope that this would free up the police to work on crime such as burglaries which are clearly not the job of mental health workers.

    Using the ARPA funds to continue employing the person who has been working on this program is a good use of these funds. As was pointed out, it would be good to employ a person who knows about this program already and can keep Lynnwood from tripping into some illegal use of these funds.

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