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Updated 07/2014

Codes of Ethics

Contents

    Introduction

    Trust in government is essential. The public wants to know that the decisions government makes are based on facts that are available to be reviewed, and that debate is open to the public. Perhaps even more important, the public does not want the decisions of its elected officials to be based upon factors that are unknown. For example, is the approval of a permit based upon the merits of the application, or upon the receipt of gifts? Can an elected official vote on an issue, if he or she will be directly affected by the decision? State law provides some guidance and protection, but many communities believe that greater transparency is needed. This page looks at local codes of ethics that help guide local officials and employees in the performance of their duties.

    City Codes of Ethics

    Cities with population of 10,000 or more

    • Bainbridge Island Ethics Board - This is a link to the city's ethics website. The page includes/links to the ordinance and resolutions that created the board, advisory opinions, process, annual reports, and other information regarding the board's operation. It is an excellent, comprehensive page.
    • Bremerton Municipal Code Ch. 2.96 - Code of Ethics, 08/1999 - Includes provisions on process, penalties and frivolous complaints
    • Edmonds Municipal Code Ch. 3.70 - Conflict of Interest, 2008 - Includes provisions limiting future employment of city employees and prohibiting the disclosure of privileged, confidential, or proprietary information
    • Federal Way Code of Ethics for City Councilmembers, Mayor and City Employees, 07/2010 - A pamphlet setting out ethics rules
    • Kirkland Municipal Code
      • Ch. 3.82 - Employee Code of Ethics, 1984 - A good recitation of limitations on conduct, use of property. Despite its age, it is a good sample ordinance.
      • Ch. 3.14 - City Council Code of Ethics, 2012
    • Lynnwood Municipal Code Ch. 2.94 - Codes of Ethics, 1997/2004 - A very good, comprehensive ordinance, setting out ethics rules, process, and penalties.
    • Marysville Municipal Code Ch. 2.80 - Code of Ethics, 1972/2006 - A very good ordinance; comprehensive. Despite its age, this could be a good model. There is relatively little state legislation regarding city ethics, and little has changed since some of the ethics ordinances were initially adopted.
    • Monroe Municipal Code Ch. 2.52 - Code of Ethics, 03/2010 - An excellent, comprehensive and recently adopted ordinance
    • Renton Municipal Code Title 1, Ch. 6 - Code of Ethics - Includes requirement for reporting expenses by candidates for elective office
    • Richland Municipal Code Ch. 2.26 - Conduct of Public Officials and Public Employees-Code of Ethics - Includes provisions for conduct of councilmembers, conduct of board committee members, incompatible employment
    • Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 1.46 - Code of Ethics, 01/2012 - A very good, comprehensive and detailed code
    • Vancouver Employment Policies Employee Ethics Policies, 05/2008 - A very well written, comprehensive, easy to understand policy
    • Woodinville Municipal Code Ch. 2.36 - Code of Ethics, 1995 - Makes use of hearings examiner for enforcement, provides for civil penalties, and deals with nepotism

    Cities with population under 10,000

    While the above ordinances and policies apply to larger cities, they could as easily apply to smaller jurisdictions. Ethical issues are not limited to jurisdictions of a certain size.

    • Fircrest Municipal Code Ch. 2.46 - Conduct of Public Officials, 1987 - Relatively short ordinance, but includes requirements for listing of property, remote interests, abstention from voting due to conflict
    • Grandview Municipal Code Ch. 2.90 - Conduct of Public Employees - Board of Ethics, 1989 - Short code. It sets out enforcement process and covers former city employees, as well as present employees.
    • Snoqualmie Municipal Code Ch. 2.80 - Code of Ethics, 1996 - Well written, comprehensive, detailed code

    County Codes of Ethics

    Counties with population of 125,000 or more

    • Clark County Code of Ethics - For Sheriffs - A short recitation of ethics, apparently prepared by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs
    • King County
    • Pierce County Code Ch. 3.12 - Code of Ethics - A very good, comprehensive ethics code that includes provisions regarding lobbying
    • Snohomish County Code Ch. 2.50 - Ethics Code, 2009 - Requires filing of state disclosure forms with the county. Lobbyist reports. Limits employment after leaving county.
    • Spokane County Code of Ethics - For Sheriffs department only
    • Whatcom County Code Ch. 2.104 - Ethics Code, 2002 - Good comprehensive set of ethics rules and procedures

    Counties with population under 125,000

    Ethics issues apply to all governments, regardless of the size of the government entity. The following are examples of ethics rules adopted by smaller jurisdictions. They could be adopted by a smaller county, but the jurisdiction could also use codes or guidelines adopted by other governments, county or city, regardless of the size of the jurisdiction.

    • Chelan County Code Sec. 1.20.127 - Ethics and Conduct, 2011 - Short code of ethics
    • Clallam County Code Ch. 3.01 - Ethics, 2011 - Short code, requires financial reporting
    • Cowlitz County Code of Ethics - For Sheriffs - Short code for sheriff's department
    • Douglas County Code Ch. 2.50 - Code of Conduct, 1993 - Applies to employees who are involved in the award or administration of contracts supported by federal grant funds
    • Grant County Employment Handbook Sec. 1.3 - Code of Ethics, 2006 - A short, one-page statement of ethical guidelines set out in the county's employment handbook
    • Jefferson County Policies and Procedures Appendix - Code of Ethics Policy and Procedures, 12/2003 - Sets out conflict of interest provisions and addresses political activities

    Statutes

    • RCW 42.23.070 - Prohibited Acts - Sets out four four prohibitions that affect officers, together with all deputies and assistants of such an officer, and all persons exercising or undertaking to exercise any of the powers or functions of a municipal officer of local governments
    • Ch. 42.52 RCW - Ethics in Public Service - Provides ethics rules for state officials and employees
    • Ch. 42.30 RCW - Open Public Meetings Act - Requiring meetings of governing bodies be open to the public
    • Ch. 42.56 RCW - Public Records Act - Providing public access to government records
    • Ch. 42.17A RCW - Disclosure of campaign finances and lobbying

    Articles and Other Publications

    Need more information?

    Feel free to Ask MRSC. Washington cities, counties, and our contract partners can call or email MRSC for more information and advice - free of charge.