Landmark ethics reforms clear Pierce County Council

Sweeping changes to ethics rules governing those attempting to influence Pierce County government won unanimous approval from the County Council yesterday.
The new legislation requires paid lobbyists and others would be required to register with the Auditor’s Office and report their expenses and personal finances. It also prohibits county officials and employees from accepting most gifts from lobbyists, gives more authority to the county’s Ethics Commission to issue advisory opinions, and increases the penalty for failing to comply.
“These ethics reforms are the most significant in decades,” said Councilmember Calvin Goings (District 2), the prime sponsor. “They will shine some much-needed sunlight on the role of outside interests in county government decision making.”
Others required to file financial disclosures are CEOs of organizations that receive significant funding from the county as well as county government department directors. Citizens lobbying on their own time, technical experts, other government officials and members of the media are not considered lobbyists and wouldn’t need to file financial reports.
“We didn’t want to cause a chilling effect on the public’s access to government,” said Councilmember Roger Bush (District 3). “This legislation manages to make the process more transparent without putting up walls that would deter most people from meeting with their elected officials in a social setting.”
The county’s Ethics Commission would have increased funding and authority to issue advisory opinions. Failure to file timely or complete financial reports by county officials and lobbyists would be subject to a higher civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation. The commission meets the first Thursday of the month at 4:30 p.m. at the Pierce County Annex in Tacoma, 2401 S. 35th St.
“The Ethics Commission needed some teeth to carry out its new duties,” said Councilmember Tim Farrell (District 4). “The commission’s expanded authority — combined with this legislation — will usher in a new day for open government in Pierce County.”
The proposal includes an effective date of June 1.