Ethics complaint: FW city attorney should have raised questions

Had Federal Way City Attorney Ryan Call asked more questions regarding ethics board member Tony Pagliocco’s relationship with Federal Way City Councilman Martin Moore, he would have learned a couple of things.

(Note: This is the second of a two-part column. Read Part 1 here.)

Had Federal Way City Attorney Ryan Call asked more questions regarding ethics board member Tony Pagliocco’s relationship with Federal Way City Councilman Martin Moore, he would have learned a couple of things.

Not only did Pagliocco view Moore as a good friend, which is clear in numerous Facebook postings, and also help in his re-election campaign, but Moore had mentored Pagliocco regarding running for public office and had encouraged his seeking appointment to a vacant school board position, which he did.

Moore had also contributed to Pagliocco’s political resume by seconding the nomination to his seat on the ethics board. All of this suggests a relationship cozy enough that Pagliocco should have been encouraged to recuse himself. But there is more.

Publically available documents from Moore’s campaign show that Pagliocco, in addition to being a friend and supporter, gave Moore’s campaign $650 and was the 7th biggest contributor to Moore’s re-election. Other documents show that Pagliocco had already filed paperwork as a possible candidate for the Federal Way City Council next year. It seems likely he would seek a return of support from Moore should he actually run.

The large donation alone was enough to raise questions and should have disqualified Pagliocco. As city attorney, Call should have asked, “did you endorse Moore and did you donate to his campaign?” before the hearing continued.

After learning that both answers were “yes,” Call could have recommended Pagliocco recuse himself. Pagliocco didn’t think about the donation, but he did raise the issue and acknowledge the relationship. This was Pagliocco’s first ethics hearing as a commissioner. He had only a brief orientation, and he is not versed in ethics rules. And as he says, “I’m not the one with the law degree.” Had Call suggested that he step down, Pagliocco says he would have done so.

I contacted the city attorney for an interview to try and find out the facts from his perspective and learn why he didn’t ask the questions, but my request was intercepted by the mayor’s office, who said the city attorney was declining my meeting request.

The mayor’s communication coordinator, Tyler Hemstreet, told me I would have to submit written questions. I objected, as I wanted my questions to remain confidential, and submitting questions about a citizen complaint of a council member through the mayor’s political arm of City Hall seemed highly inappropriate.

Moore is an ally of Mayor Jim Ferrell, and Deputy Mayor Susan Honda is not. Ferrell had recently appointed Pagliocco to the Civil Service Commission, which suggests Ferrell was not exactly a disinterested party. The complaint should be none of Ferrell’s or Hemstreet’s business.

When I requested confidentiality of my questions to the city attorney, Hemstreet said the city attorney works for the mayor and would keep nothing from the mayor. Think that through. No resident can assume that anything they say to the legal department or any complaint they file won’t be confidential from the mayor’s office.

Think about it from a citizen’s point of view. Did resident Norma Blanchard, after filing the ethics complaint that uncovered all of this, receive a fair hearing? Who was looking out for her rights? No one in City Hall ever informed Blanchard of the relationship between Moore and Pagliocco, or the potentially compromising information. Had she known of the relationship, she could have challenged the fairness and asked for a substitution. If Blanchard had challenged Pagliocco’s impartiality, I suspect he would have voluntarily stepped down. But Blanchard never knew.

The city attorney can be fired by the mayor, but he is the “city” attorney, not the mayor’s personal lawyer. The city attorney is legally required to defend the corporation as his client. But depending on the circumstances of any case, his clients could include the mayor andor council members, such as Moore and Honda in their official capacity, or the general public, such as Blanchard. In this case, his duty was to protect the interests of the corporation and public at large by ensuring a fair, impartial and objective ethics board decided Blanchard’s complaint.

Pagliocco’s continued participation seems unlikely to pass the appearance of fairness test to an objective observer. But despite some complicity for not recalling the $650 donation, the mayor’s office blames only Pagliocco, even though he raised the question, has no experience in these matters and “isn’t the one with the law degree.”

What should they have done? Call should have asked two more questions about endorsements and donations, and with the information available, Call should have recommended that Pagliocco recuse himself, which he would have done. Two are needed to hear the case and board’s rules require them to substitute a former board member. If none were available, then the board could have had the council appoint another alternate or contract with the ethics board from another city.

The new board would have likely arrived at the same conclusion because rudeness is not covered by the city code of dthics. But it would have been decided by an impartial board, set a process precedent, and sent a message that ethics count as much to the board and the city administration as they do to our residents.

I suggested to the mayor’s office this simple solution. The mayor’s spokesperson seemed more interested in blaming Pagliocco, and denying any error by City Hall, than correcting a wrong.

Even with no assistance from City Hall, Blanchard has another remedy — the city council.

She could file a complaint with the city council. Two issues are available: should the council admonish Moore for his rude behavior and request that he apologize? Or should the council encourage the presiding officer (Mayor Ferrell ) to do a better job of maintaining proper decorum?

While I doubt either option would be successful, no council member should be expected to endure the rudeness Honda did. And though it was a judgment call for Ferrell, even a subtle caution to Moore would have prevented the situation and demonstrated his objectivity.

The issue is nuanced because the right decision got made, but not by the right people. What if the case had been about a real conflict of interest rather than rudeness? Moore and Pagliocco were too cozy to continue Pagliocco’s participation.

The bigger concern is that issues before the ethics board need to be fair to all concerned, and it was not fair to Blanchard. She never knew that a friend, supporter and contributor to Moore was on the board, and Moore had seconded his nomination. The city attorney’s office has a duty to ask more questions when a recusal is raised. And the mayor’s office’s apparent lack of concern about fairness and focus on protecting City Hall’s political exposure as a substitute for fairness to a citizen is misplaced. It was a tainted decision.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact: bjroegner@comcast.net.

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