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Sunnyside council mulls code of conduct policies

The Sunnyside City Council first discussed the need for a council code of conduct at a retreat last month.

Last night (Monday) the council convened a special meeting to discuss potential policies, using the city of Tillamook, Ore. council code of conduct as a model.

Discussed were the first 16 policies in the Tillamook code, including the practice of decorum, respecting the mayor and other council members, the need for a code of ethics, how anonymous communications should be dealt with, the public records act and when it applies, and how questions of staff should be managed.

There were two policies removed from the Tillamook draft because conduct during debate is covered in the Sunnyside council's rules of procedure.

As for the code of ethics language, which states, "Council members shall conduct themselves so as to bring credit upon the city as a whole, and to set an example of good ethical conduct for all citizens of the community...," the Sunnyside council decided the policy should remain. They also decided the council needs a formal code of ethics like that used by the city of Yakima.

When the council discussed anonymous communications, which are defined as "anonymous and unsigned," Councilman Mike Farmer said, "I can see why some communications might be anonymous or unsigned...for safety."

Because of the public records act, however, council concluded anonymous communications cannot be introduced at council meetings.

The policy, council agreed, should be moved to the council's rules of procedure rather than remain in the code of conduct.

Moving through the code of conduct, the council made a few other changes. There were policies council directed City Manager Mark Gervasi to move into the rules of procedure and other policies he was directed to amend.

Of lengthy debate was a policy regarding how council should conduct itself when making inquiries of staff.

Councilman Don Vlieger said he feels it is his right, under RCW, to question staff at any time.

"I wonder how this affects our right of inquiry," he said.

The proposed policy requires council to direct questions to the city manager or a designee. It also states a copy of a request should be provided to the city manager. The questions falling under the policy include "additional information that would be of interest to all councilors."

Vlieger said he doesn't want to give up his right to question staff whenever he wishes, stating it is his right to do so.

Councilman Pablo Garcia entered the discussion, stating, "There are a lot of requests and somehow they need to be prioritized through the city manager."

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock agreed, stating, "We need to keep in control the best use of staff time."

She said she feels the city manager's involvement means he stays apprised of requests made of staff members and gives him the opportunity to direct staff on requests that are a matter of priority.

Due to time constraints, the council halted further discussion on the code of conduct with an agreement that discussions would reconvene at a later retreat.

Also to be discussed at the retreat will be a draft of council's governance policies.

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