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Council approves increased transparency for ethics complaints in King County

August 22, 2023

The King County Council on Tuesday approved legislation to increase transparency in ethics investigations and professionalize the Board of Ethics in the wake of cases that highlighted shortcomings in existing rules.

“At its core this legislation is a crucial step in ensuring the Board of Ethics is better equipped to carry out its duties with increased transparency, authority, and ability to gather pertinent information,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who authored the legislation. “I am confident that this will help to bolster public trust and confidence in King County’s ethical standards and the decisions made by the Board of Ethics.”

The ordinance makes several changes to code related to the Office of Public Complaints and the Code of Ethics, including establishing a timeline for the early resolution agreement process, requiring the Ombuds to share records with the Board of Ethics, and clarifying what actions the board can take.

The legislation also adds a requirement that members of the Board of Ethics have demonstrated experience applicable to the board’s responsibilities. Dembowski brought the legislation after news reports that the Board of Ethics lacked access to relevant information in evaluating a 2021 early resolution agreement. 

“As a former member of the King County Board of Ethics, I am pleased with the changes to policy and practice that this legislation brings about,” said Thomas Miller. “My appreciation to Councilmember Dembowski for spearheading this legislation and including me in the drafting process of this important legislation. I am confident it will strengthen and improve the credibility of the County’s ethics program going forward.”

An ethics complaint in 2020 ended in an earlyresolution agreement – the first use of the compromise – and it was later revealed by a SeattleTimes investigation that key information from the investigation was not shared with the Board of Ethics prior to it approving the resolution.