The city council unanimously passed a code of conduct at their April 4 meeting and a code of ethics at their April 18 meeting.
The codes will apply to all city elected and appointed officials, including the council itself, as part of the Sammamish Municipal Code. They will serve as a framework for these officials’ actions, in an attempt to build public trust and confidence in the city.
The code of conduct ensures professionalism, equity, and clear communication within the city by serving as a guideline for city officials to inspire public trust and act in the best interests of the people.
The code will “[encourage] the highest standards of behavior by elected and appointed officials and provides an ongoing source of guidance to officials in their service,” said Lacey Lewis, supervising management analyst at Sammamish city manager’s office, at the April 4 council meeting.
Although the code of conduct passed unanimously, Councilmember Amy Lam expressed concerns regarding the code’s lack of monetary penalties for non-compliance.
In an email with the Sammamish Independent, she cited a prior incident of a council member disparaging others on social media, referring to the Feb. 1, 2022 council meeting where a member was admonished for making personal attacks on social media. This conduct was a violation of then-existing council rules, but the council agreed to take no action.
“Without stronger penalties, such as a monetary one, accountability will be challenging as I’ve experienced,” Lam said.
Distinct from the code of conduct is the code of ethics, a ten-page set of principles and policies for city officials to follow.
“While the Code of Conduct governs behavior, the Code of Ethics influences decision-making and has guidelines for items,” Lam said.
Inspired by similar documents in Kirkland and Mercer Island, the code of ethics establishes guidelines for anti-nepotism, political activity, and conflicts of interest, among other topics. Unlike the code of conduct, violations of the code of ethics can lead to a fine of up to $1000.
To help ensure compliance with the new code of ethics, the city will hire an ethics officer to serve as a neutral third party and advise council members on ethics issues. The city will also hire a hearing examiner on an ad hoc basis to lead informal proceedings and issue decisions and recommendations to resolve conflicts.
Although the state already has a code of ethics, that code primarily targets financial interest in contracts, with minimal coverage of prohibited conduct. Among other additions, the city wanted to address conflicts of interest more than the state and nearby municipalities have, leading it to develop its own code of ethics.
“Personally, I think it is critical that we are 100% transparent all the time,” Councilmember Pamela Stuart said about the conflict of interest section of the code in an email with the Sammamish Independent. “Therefore, we should have a policy that requires the disclosure of any current or past relationship with any entity we are doing business with.”
Stuart also expressed hope for the future of accountability within the city with the two codes’ addition.
“Democracy only works when everyone follows the rules and no abuse is tolerated,” she said.