vg Seattle Ethics Code Complaint Procedures
Ethics and Elections Commission Wayne Barnett, Executive Director
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Complaint Procedures

  1. If I am contacted and told that an ethics complaint has been made against me, what will happen next?

    Answer: Commission staff does not assume, based on a complaint, that an employee violated the Ethics Code. When staff receives a complaint or information that someone may have violated the Code, the first step is to determine what happened.

    First of all, within 30 days after receipt, the Executive Director will review the complaint to determine whether the complaint alleges facts that, if true, would violate the Ethics Code. You will be asked what you know about the situation. The time may be extended by the Commission for good cause.

    If, after investigation, staff believes that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that a violation has occurred, or that the violation was inadvertent and minor, the Executive Director will dismiss the case and will notify you and the person who filed the complaint by letter. The complainant may appeal the dismissal.

    If there is reason to believe you have violated the Code, staff may suggest a settlement of the case. If you and the Executive Director reach a settlement agreement, you will be asked to: sign the proposed agreement, attend the Commission meeting at which the proposed agreement is presented, and respond to Commission members' questions at the meeting.

    If the Commission signs the agreement, the case will be closed. The Executive Director will then send a letter to the complainant explaining the disposition of the case and a copy to you. (Your copy will not include the complainant's name or address.)

    If a settlement cannot be reached, a public hearing is scheduled. You may have the right to request a closed hearing, if you are not an elected official, department head, board or commission member, deputy mayor, or member of a union without a closed hearing agreement.

    You will receive in advance all of the evidence that the Executive Director plans to use to prove the case against you. Each party has the right to representation and has an opportunity to present their case and to cross-examine witnesses. The hearing is recorded.

  2. What are my rights during the investigation?

    Answer: All employees are entitled to have an attorney with them during the investigation process. Union members may bring a union representative to an interview.

  3. If I see a City employee involved in behavior I believe to be unethical, what should I do? How do I know when to notify my supervisor or the Ethics and Elections Commission?

    Answer: If you believe that an employee is violating the Code and you are not a supervisor, you may contact the Commission office, inform your supervisor, or both, whichever you believe is most appropriate.

    If you think your supervisor is a part of the misconduct or would not know how to correct it, you may contact Commission staff. You can do this anonymously or you may identify yourself.

    If you are a supervisor, you should act on any employee conduct that you believe violates the Ethics Code. If you do not take action, you may be violating the Code yourself. You can deal with the violation on your own. However, Commission staff is always willing to help employees and supervisors determine if their assessments are correct.

    If you provide information that indicates the possibility of an Ethics Code violation, the Commission staff will conduct an investigation. Your identity will not be disclosed unless required by court order. If the conduct is not a violation of the Ethics Code, but could or should be addressed by another agency, staff will suggest that you provide the information to the appropriate agency.

  4. I'm afraid of retaliation. Can I file a complaint anonymously?

    Answer: Yes. You may file a complaint anonymously, and the staff will conduct an investigation. However, it would help the fact gathering if the investigator can interview you for the details of what leads you to believe that a violation has occurred.

    Your identity will not be disclosed at any point during the investigation or during the hearing if a violation is found, unless required by court order. Neither the Commission nor the person who is charged with a violation receives the identity of the person who complained.

  5. Doesn't the accused have a right to face the accuser? How can you keep secret the name of the person who complains about me?

    Answer: Charges will only be filed against a Covered Individual if the Executive Director believes that an Ethics Code violation has occurred. The Executive Director, then, is the person who is accusing the Covered Individual of the violation. The complaint brings awareness to the problem, and gives the Commission the opportunity to hold the individual accountable.

  6. What is the difference between an ethics complaint and a whistleblower complaint?

    Answer: The Ethics Code is about individual accountability and the Whistleblower Code is about bringing attention to government wrongdoing so that it can be corrected.

    Ethics complaints are complaints about the conduct of a City officer or employee that generally involves private gain, self-dealing, biased decisions, or the misuse of City resources. Ethics complaints may be brought by employees or citizens. Every ethics complaint brought by a City employee is by definition a whistleblower complaint.

    Whistleblower complaints involve alleged improper governmental actions which violate a federal, state, county, or city law or rule; abuse authority; create a substantial danger to public health or safety; or result in a gross waste of public funds. Whistleblower complaints may be made only by City officers or employees.

For more information on the Commission's Powers and Duties,
see SMC 3.70.100 or contact the SEEC for advice.

For more on ethics complaints, investigations, hearings, and enforcement, see SMC 4.16.090 or contact the SEEC for advice.

For information on Whistleblower complaints and investigations, see the Whistleblower site or SMC 4.20.800. Please contact the SEEC
for assistance in filing your complaint and navigating the system.

Last updated August 7, 2009.

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