Washington Evening Journal
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Washington City Council adopts code of ethics
Policy empowers council to remove elected officials, but is not retroactive
WASHINGTON — The city of Washington enacted a code of conduct for its elected officials Tuesday night, with a resolution some council members framed as a reaction to criminal charges announced against Mayor Jaron Rosien in January.
Mayor Pro Tem Millie Youngquist said the policy was effective immediately, but that it was not retroactive. That means it doesn’t apply to the already-existing controversy with Rosien, who is currently on unpaid leave but has not resigned despite some calls to do so. The mayor pleaded not guilty to the allegations of third degree sexual abuse in March.
“There’s still some people that feel the awkwardness of the Jaron thing, and what happened with that and how it’s affecting the city,” Youngquist said. “It’s kind of making a statement. I don’t disagree with it.”
The newly adopted code of ethics states that elected officials must “refrain from actions and involvement that might prove embarrassing for the city of Washington and to resign if such actions or involvement develop.” It also calls on them to represent the city “formally and informally,” and to “avoid behavior which might damage its image.”
The resolution includes only one spelled-out penalty for breaches of the ethical code: removal from office by a two-thirds vote of the city council.
Council members said that language gave the body broad authority, balanced by common-sense judgment of its members.
“We’re all held to a higher standard,” Council Member Elaine Moore said. “We need to behave and lead by example. This just sets boundaries for us, to remind us that we are held to that higher standard … I don’t think it’s a problem to set expectations.”
The wording is based on a similar policy for employees of Washington County Mini Bus, according to Council Member Illa Earnest, who is also one of that group’s board members. City Administrator Deanna McCusker said she found few examples of similar policies in surrounding cities.
Most municipalities default to state code when it comes to removal of public officials, according to City Attorney Kevin Olson. While those laws apply only after an official is convicted, he said the removal process under Washington’s new rule would adhere similar procedures.
“If they’re convicted, that can go to the council and two thirds of the council can vote to have the person removed,” he said. “In theory, that two thirds is still following that, that’s where that two thirds comes from … it’s following the same protocol.”