Councilors agree ethics complaint against Leavitt has no merit

Since there’s no Vancouver City Council meeting tonight in observance of Veterans Day, it’s a good time to revisit a topic councilors discussed last week.

City Attorney Ted Gathe gave councilors his opinion on an ethics complaint against Mayor Tim Leavitt filed by Robert Dean, a former Clark County resident who resides in Durham, N.C.

Gathe said Dean made three allegations that Leavitt was in violation of the city’s Code of Ethics.

Gathe outlined the written response he’d already provided to the council.

Leavitt’s employer, PBS Engineering does contract with Tri-Met, but for environmental work and health and safety services, Gathe said — topics which have no bearing on anything going on with the city.

As for Dean’s allegation about what compensation Leavitt receives from his employer, the city doesn’t have any authority to investigate the compensation practices of a private business, Gathe said.

He said Dean’s complaint was based on a series of assumptions.

“There’s nothing to investigate, quite frankly,” Gathe said.

Still, despite Gathe’s opinion the council could have voted to move the complaint on to a hearings examiner. Yet the council — Leavitt excused himself from the meeting, turning it over to Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Smith — agreed unanimously that the complaint did not merit an investigation.

Councilor Bill Turlay said the process puts the council in an awkward position of having to say whether or not a complaint merits an investigation. Other councilors sympathized with Turlay being uncomfortable with the process, but as Councilor Jeanne Harris pointed out, the process has already been modified to take the council out of it once there’s a vote to go forward.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart said Dean’s complaint lacked detailed information to allege a conflict of interest.

She said the council takes ethics complaints seriously, but councilors also have to guard against witch hunts. Any of us could be the subject of a witch hunt at any time, she told her fellow councilors.

“We have to be responsible to each other and we have to be responsible to the public,” Stewart said.

Smith said when conflicts of interest do come up, councilors can, and do, recuse themselves from voting.

The discussion took place at the end of the meeting during councilor communications. To watch, go to CVTV and click “communications.” The ethics complaint discussion is at the end.

Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at or 360-735-4508.

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