Code of Ethics

Plus: Lazy Lakewood, more targets for birds and Tollefson Plaza problem

By Volcano Staff on March 6, 2008

Code of Ethics

After weighing the merits and considering two different proposals, the Pierce County Council unanimously approved a new Code of Ethics Tuesday, March 4.  The new code, which was championed by Democratic Councilmen Calvin Goings of Puyallup, is designed to limit the influence of paid lobbyists and other special interests on Pierce County government. The Code of Ethics, which will take effect June 1, prohibits county officials and employees from accepting gifts worth more than $25 from lobbyists, prohibits county officials and employees from accepting meals or trips from registered lobbyists, and requires professional lobbyists to register with the Auditor’s office and report their spending. The version that passed is a compromise between Goings’ vision, which was tougher, and a proposal by Republican Councilman Roger Bush, which was more in tune with ethics guidelines the state adheres to.

“These ethics reforms are the most significant in decades,” said Goings in a Pierce County Council press release issued shortly after the decision. “They will shine some much-needed sunlight on the role of outside interests in county government decision making.”

Just last week Goings faced tough criticism from Tacoma City Councilman Mike Lonergan — who’s running against Goings for the highly coveted position of Pierce County Executive. After using taxpayer dollars in February to fund a mailing that invited the public to a town hall meeting on ethics reform, Lonergan angrily claimed the mailing was specifically designed to build name recognition for Goings and taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for that.

“I would hope that the irony of this mailing on the topic of Ethics Reform is not lost on the public,” read a statement by Lonergan released prior to the Code of Ethics approval.

That controversy doesn’t seem to have affected the Code of Ethics’ approval, however, and based on the unanimous vote the Pierce County Council seems to agree about the need for ethics reform. — Matt Driscoll

Lazy Lakewood

In what has become an alarming trend in Lakewood, a recent audit by the state auditor’s office has once again found Lakewood’s finances to be a gawd-awful mess. Last month the Weekly Volcano reported that the City of Lakewood was six months behind on reconciling their checkbook, not to mention they’d lost the paperwork for dozens of guns distributed to the Lakewood police force. Now, for the second straight year the state auditor’s office has found serious problems with Lakewood’s control over its management of public funds.

In an audit released Friday, Feb. 29, the state auditor’s offices concluded:

“The city of Lakewood had inadequate controls over financial controlling.

“The City of Lakewood is the second largest city in Pierce County with a population of approximately 59,000. The City collected $42.9 million in revenues and spent $35.6 million in expenditures in 2006. City management, the state Legislature, state and federal agencies and bondholders rely on financial statement information to reflect the entities position — enabling accurate decisions to be made. It is the responsibility of City management to design and follow internal controls that provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting. Our audit identified material weaknesses in controls that adversely affect the City’s ability to produce accurate financial statements.”

The audit went on to describe many of Lakewood’s deficiencies, including the city’s inability to provide 2006 financial statements to the auditor’s office until 10 months after year end and “formula errors and omissions of required information that had not been detected by management.”

For their part, Lakewood has acknowledged the problem, which they attribute to “bad housekeeping” and high turnover. They’ve hired a financial consultant to help straighten things up. Here’s to hoping that person gets paid by the hour, because there’s obviously plenty of work to be done in Lakewood. — Matt Driscoll

More targets for birds

A group of local officials have begun crafting in earnest a new commuting program that would encourage people living downtown to find new ways to get to work. Led by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, City of Tacoma and Pierce Transit, the goal would be to reduce traffic congestion as Tacoma’s population and employment base rises. They will be led in the effort by Portland-based commute guru Rick Williams.

The Puget Sound Regional Council estimates that by 2020 Tacoma will have nearly 12,000 more people working downtown. Assuming that in 12 years people will be as attached to their cars as they are now, all those extra employees will need 11,000 new parking stalls, at a cost of more than $200 million. Local officials have decided it will be cheaper to encourage use of public transportation and non-motorized commute options. Efforts will begin with a push to encourage downtown workers to leave their cars at home.

To help in the effort, the state Department of Transportation recently earmarked $300,000 for development of a Transportation Efficiency Center plan to reduce solo commutes into the city. The plan will center on University of Washington Tacoma students and faculty, new residential development in the north end of downtown, and small employers. — Joe Malik

Stumbling block

After years lying relatively unused, Tacoma’s Tollefson Plaza is getting some serious attention from local officials. Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the City of Tacoma have announced they have nearly completed an agreement that would put the Chamber in charge of populating the seemingly featureless plain of concrete with events and people.

A report by Project for Public Spaces’ Cynthia Nikitin characterizes Tollefson Plaza as a classic public-spaces blunder.

“The cornerstone institutions that surrounded the plaza had no mandate to program it,” she says in the report Stumbling Blocks to Creating Great Civic Centers ... and How to Overcome Them. “Nor were they sure how their own patrons might use it, what activities people could do there, or how they might help run the plaza over the long term. On top of that uncertainty, cost concerns prevented amenities like restrooms, concessions, and seating from seeing the light of day. When the plaza opened, few people used it besides skateboarders and the homeless.”

A proposed license agreement would designate the Chamber as manager of the plaza, following recommendations offered in 2006 by Project for Public Spaces. The Chamber promises to develop a schedule of activities that would fill the space with something other than skateboarders. — Michael Swan