City Hall

Ethics Commission Rejects Anti-Parks District Complaint

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission rejects a complaint alleging that city council members and the Seattle Channel advocated for parks in violation of city ethics law.

By Erica C. Barnett July 24, 2014

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission rejected an appeal by neighborhood activist Chris Leman yesterday charging that the May edition of the Seattle Channel public affairs show "City Inside/Out violated the city's ethics code by promoting a ballot measure—in this case, November's Proposition 1, which would create a metropolitan parks district funded by a citywide property tax. 

In his initial rejection of Leman's complaint, which charges that the three council members who appeared on the show, as well as host Brian Callanan, used public facilities and resources in contravention of Seattle [law] to promote Proposition 1," SEEC director Wayne Barnett wrote that although all the council members on the show (Kshama Sawant, Sally Bagshaw, and Tim Burgess) seemed to be "promot[ing] the ballot proposition," city law allows city officials to express their opinions on a ballot measure in response to a direct question, such as the question Callanan asked of Sawant, Bagshaw, and Burgess. 

Additionally, Barnett noted, Callanan asked questions that challenged the three council members' pro-parks-district statements; and, in any case, he's a contractor, not a city employee subject to city restrictions on speech.

(Leman argued that Callanan arranged all the questions and answers with council members in advance, using what he called a "secret script" arrived at through "deliberate coordination" between Callanan and the council members, and called it "unethical" for a TV host to let guests know what questions they'll be asked.) 

However, in a slight nod to Leman's concerns (albeit not one that satisfied Leman), Barnett agreed to place a "moratorium on discussions of the many state and local ballot initiatives that will be on the ballot this year until the Commission can provide guidance on compliance with the Elections Code," and to seek "binding guidance" from the ethics commission on what city officials can say about ballot measures or candidates on Seattle Channel without running afoil of elections law.  

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