Councilwoman rebuked for uncivil broadside of mayor

ARLINGTON – A remark by an outgoing Arlington city councilwoman in local media calling the mayor “corrupt” led City Councilmembers to explore rules for civility at a workshop Tuesday, but not before the elected official who made the accusation left the room upset.

In comments in an online election news story from incumbent Sue Weiss who was losing in a race to retain her seat, she said she was disappointed that citizens would have to contend with more of the same for another four years with someone she deemed corrupt.

The accusation drew the ire of councilmembers.

Debora Nelson introduced an item not on the agenda at the end of the meeting that served the purpose of calling out Weiss publicly for her incendiary remark, and pursuing the drafting of codes of conduct to prevent similar situations in the future.

“Councilmember Weiss made unsubstantiated accusations of corruption within our city government in The Arlington Times last week,” Nelson said. “I’m unaware of her reporting any alleged wrongdoings to the state auditor during her four-year term on the council.”

Weiss, sitting across from the councilwoman, spoke over Nelson that the workshop was not the venue for a discussion on conduct. She added that she was under no obligation to run by others what she said to the press, while the mayor tried to call for order.

Weiss then stood up, grabbed her things and walked out of the chambers.

Nelson said Weiss’s words “are breaking the norms of civility we expect in this governing body.”

She believed Weiss’s comments called into question not only the mayor’s integrity, but city staff and the council as well.

“These statements reveal a level of seriousness that council needs to consider what actions we need to take to assure that behavior like this is not accepted as a norm in the future,” Nelson said.

Nelson asked the city administrator and city attorney to bring forward options for a code of conduct and ethics policies for council members, the mayor, and commission members, including rules of procedure if the code of conduct is broken.

City Attorney Steve Peiffle said many cities have approached the topic different ways.

“Many cities have a municipal code of ethics which describes how you want council interaction to be whether it’s at a meeting or not,” Peiffle said.

The council already has basic rules and procedures that address conduct at public meetings.

What’s being asked for by the council goes a little further. Peiffle said a code of ethics, or conduct, is a “statement of aspirational standards” for how the governing body aims to behave and conduct business with each other. Some governments add a layer that refers to interaction with the public and the media.

While state law bars municipal officers from engaging in certain conflicts of interest and unethical behavior, some cities and counties adopt their own ethics codes that include more restrictions.

Some cities, such as Lynnwood and Ferndale, use a complaint process and rely on ad-hoc ethics committees or majority council votes to adjudicate complaints case by case. Remedies can range from from verbal admonition, resolutions of reprimand or censure, or in extreme instances removal from office.

Peiffle said Arlington has not adopted a code of ethics or conduct during his lengthy tenure as city attorney, despite contentious times that city government weathered.

“I think with the way political discourse is occurring across the country, it’s at least worthwhile for the council to look at this, and make a decision whether you want to adopt some more specific set of rules or guidelines,” he said.

Mayor Barb Tolbert added it’s important that elected officials remain civil when they deal with staff at the staff level, too.

“There have been issues where it would have been nice to have a code of conduct,” she said. “It would be helpful to have guidelines we can use when something happens inappropriate.

Other councilmembers said it makes sense to have some ground rules in place to promote civility and to know when you’ve crossed a line.

Councilmember Jan Schuette thanked and supported Nelson’s request, but was surprised the city didn’t already have a code of conduct.

When she read her fellow councilwoman’s unsubstantiated words, she took them as apply to the mayor, council, city administrator and directors.

“Anytime somebody says something like that, it’s a dark shadow over our entire city administration,” Schuette said. “Hopefully, it will never happen again.”

City administrator Paul Ellis said they hope to have a draft document to the council for review in February.

More in News

Inslee: Stay home for 2 weeks

By Jerry Cornfield and Zachariah Bryan The Herald OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay… Continue reading

Fences have been put up around Marysville playgrounds to keep kids off. (Steve Powell/Staff Photos)
Marysville leaders concerned as (almost) everything’s closing

By Steve Powell spowell@marysvilleglobe.com MARYSVILLE – Within hours of Gov. Jay Inslee’s… Continue reading

Briefly

Beware of coronavirus scams SEATTLE – U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran is… Continue reading

Jennifer Thompson, left, and her father Ron Thompson secure a new remembrance plaque to the Oso slide site gate on Sunday, near Oso. Ron Thompson handcrafts a new plaque for the gate every year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Community remembers Oso slide victims, survivors

By Ben Watanabe The Herald OSO — The power of remembering the… Continue reading

People gather to pick up special allergy meals before leaving Lakewood High School on Wednesday in Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Districts taking meals to students since schools are closed

By Stephanie Davey The Herald LAKEWOOD — Children wearing pajamas stood outside… Continue reading

Jon Nehring
Letter about coronavirus from Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring

This is an edited version of a letter Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring… Continue reading

DOUGLAS BUell/Staff Photos
                                Lead cook Keina Gowins with Presidents Elementary hands out free grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches to students and parents outside the school Wednesday. Presidents and AHS serve as central kitchen sites for preparing meals, which starting next week will expand to 12 delivery sites from Silvana to Oso. Right, Arlington Food Bank executive director Carla Gastineau and Mike Simpson, food bank board president and owner of Arlington Grocery Outlet, partnered with the district with their Meals Til Monday program, and gave a woman a box of donated food while at Presidents.
Arlington students won’t go hungry during the COVID-19 school closures

ARLINGTON – Arlington schools are closed through April 24 to help fight… Continue reading

Scott Beebe hands out Chromebooks to people in their cars. (Steve Powell/Staff Photos)
Marysville parents anxious to pick up school materials for kids

By Steve Powell spowell@marysvilleglobe.com MARYSVILLE – A few days ago Marysville schools… Continue reading

Jon Nehring
Marysville leaders’ trip to D.C. productive

MARYSVILLE – City leaders recently obtained advice on how to get more… Continue reading

Crews will blow garbage into the street and sweep it up over the next few weeks. The city is asking people to move their cars, trash cans and recycle bins when they come around to help them do a thorough job. (Courtesy Photo)
Marysville shuffles workers due to virus, seeks public’s help for sweepers next week

By Steve Powell spowell@marysvilleglobe. MARYSVILLE – From working from home to teleconferencing… Continue reading

City of Arlington carries out operational changes to encourage social distancing

ARLINGTON – The city has made a series of operational changes in… Continue reading