King County Council approves Board of Ethics rule changes to increase transparency

The legislation comes after reports that the board lacked access to relevant information.

On Aug. 22, the King County Council approved legislation to increase transparency in ethics investigations and to “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 ombudsman 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 reports that the Board of Ethics lacked access to relevant information in evaluating a 2021 early resolution agreement.

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