Code would set a clear policy for future allegations against city volunteers

With investigations regarding two allegations of harassment against West Linn City Councilor Bob Martin completed, City Council continued to craft a new code of conduct during a work session Monday, May 21. The hope was to establish a clearer set of expectations for elected officials and a process to abide by if those rules aren't followed.

The council and City staff faced pointed criticism from resident and Committee for Citizen Involvement member Emily Smith in February, when she accused Martin of sexual harassment during a council meeting and noted that she did so publicly because she felt the City did not have an adequate process for addressing her matter when she brought it forward in private.

After a third-party investigator found that Martin's actions did not create a "pervasive" environment of sexual harassment, the City announced it was beginning work on a code of conduct that would "set clear standards for conduct, a process for reporting harassment claims and ramifications for violating the policy." The City has a code of conduct for employees, but it does not apply to city councilors or other commission members who aren't considered staff.

The council first discussed a draft code of conduct during a May 7 meeting, and City Manager Eileen Stein presented a new draft during Monday's work session.

"You have a draft ordinance and modifications to the council rules, so this code of conduct language would appear in both places," Stein said. "You'll see that the actual behavioral aspects language that was in the City's personnel policies is being incorporated into the council rules. And then the ordinance itself would be establishing the code of conduct and mostly establishing who it is applicable to and what the procedures might be for when someone has a concern, and filing a complaint."

The procedure outlined in the draft begins with the filing of a written complaint signed by the complainant. That complaint would then be reviewed by the city attorney, who would determine if what was alleged constituted a violation of the code of conduct and, if so, whether an investigation was warranted. An investigation would be done by a third party, who would issue a written report to the city attorney and both parties involved in the allegation.

The draft stated that the council would then review the report and decide how to proceed, but during the work session the council said it was uncomfortable with taking such an active role in an investigation and City Attorney Tim Ramis suggested that the review of the report could instead be done by an independent hearings officer.

Finally, the council could decide on sanctions, ranging from a verbal admonition to a written reprimand or a more formal censure. A policy is already in place that allows the council to declare a seat vacant if a councilor is convicted of a crime or resigns from office.

The process for an appeal has yet to be decided, and will be included in a final draft of the code.

The May 21 draft code of conduct applied City personnel policies to the council and other city volunteers. Those policies go beyond harassment, covering ethics, workplace conduct, business expenses and alcohol and drug use as well.

City Attorney Tim Ramis said some of these policies extended beyond what was covered in state ethics law, which could complicate matters.

"It would force us to answer questions at times about whether we're following state law," Ramis said.

In the end, the council decided that the policy should simply state that councilors and other volunteers will follow the same code of conduct as city employees, and abide by state law when it comes to ethics.

Councilors also agreed that a new policy should apply to anyone who volunteers at the city level.

"They have to abide by the standards because they are representing the city," City Council President Brenda Perry said.

A formal vote on the new code of conduct will follow at a future meeting.

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