An Ethics Complaint

To: Carol Van Noy, Director, Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission

Please consider this a formal ethics complaint against Seattle City Council Member Margaret Pageler.

Judging from the unusual rush of e-mails I received last week, Stranger readers are upset that Pageler, a sitting council member, secretly applied for a job as CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce--the city's most powerful business lobby. However, judging by the non-existent reaction from the Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission (SEEC), other media in town, and Pageler's council colleagues, it's clear that the people in a position to discipline Pageler don't think Pageler's behind-the-scenes maneuvering is a big deal. (Council Member Judy Nicastro apparently lost her nerve on this issue, retracting her condemnation of Pageler's Chamber fling and dashing down the hall to patch things up with Pageler after the Stranger story hit.)

Given this epidemic of timidity, I'm taking matters into my own hands. Pageler should not have been able to secretly apply for a job with the city's most prominent business lobby while simultaneously writing the city budget and going to bat for the Chamber on issues like Council President Peter Steinbrueck's parking tax. I'm not making this up--ethics commissions across the country, from New York to L.A., have rules against this sort of conflict.

You say Pageler's job hunt didn't raise ethics flags because Pageler's voting record is consistently pro-Chamber anyway.

This consistency standard is dumb. For example, how are you, as director of the SEEC, supposed to flag a conflict of interest for council members whose records aren't consistent--whose records can't be pinned down as either conservative or liberal? As I argued last week: There should be an objective ethics standard in place that prevents conflicts before they happen, so you don't have to be a mind reader.

However, since Seattle has an ethics law--albeit a tepid one--I will play by those rules. Even if we adhere to the SEEC's "consistency" standard, Pageler is still in trouble--because Pageler's record isn't consistently pro-Chamber. For example, just one week before the Chamber job opened up, Pageler supported a major left-wing tweak to a Chamber bill that would have forced developers to provide low-income housing. At the behest of the Chamber, then-mayor Paul Schell vetoed the bill. So, going by your own consistency standard, Pageler--who followed up her anti-Chamber vote with pro-Chamber stances while she was in the Chamber job loop--should be disciplined. (Pageler did not return our calls.)

And P.S., Carol: While processing this complaint, you might recall that Pageler tried to gut the SEEC right before her job hunt began. ["Bad Ethics," Josh Feit, Nov 8, 2001.]