Commission finds Councilwoman Karen Stratton’s letter to City of Pasco violated ethics code

Ethics complaint filed against Spokane City Councilwoman Karen Stratton
City of Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. – Commissioners found Councilwoman Karen Stratton violated the City of Spokane’s Code of Ethics when she wrote the City of Pasco about economic opportunities provided by marijuana retailers.

The complaint was filed in September by Neil Muller, who alleged Stratton’s letter “co-mingled” with her personal business interests.

Stratton wrote the letter on City of Spokane letterheard and noted her experience with Lucky Leaf, a cannabis retailer located in downtown Spokane that was looking to expand. Stratton and her husband own a marijuana farm south of Cheney.

“My experience with these businesses is personal in that we own a producer farm in Cheney, Washington. That said, on a political level, I am keenly aware of the positive impacts cannabis businesses can have in a community,” Stratton wrote.

Four of the seven members of the Ethics Commission were present at Wednesday’s meeting. Two members had to recuse themselves because of conflict and one member was out of the town.

The four present voted unanimously, saying Stratton was in violation of portions of the “Fair and Equitable Treatment” section of the code’s prohibited conduct.

Mike Piccolo, of the City Attorney’s Offfice, said the commission found Stratton violated the following:

1. No City officer or employee shall knowingly use his or her office or position to secure personal benefit, gain or profit, or use position to secure special privileges or exceptions for himself/herself or for the benefit, gain or profits of any other persons.

3. No City officer or employee shall use City-owned vehicles, equipment, materials, money or property for personal or private convenience or profit. Use is restricted to such services as are available to the public generally, for the authorized conduct of official business (not personal use), and for such purposes and under such conditions as can be reasonably expected to be approved by City policies.

5.  City Officers and employees are encouraged to participate in the political process on their own time and outside of the workplace by working on campaigns for the election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition, but shall not use or authorize the use of City facilities of resources for such purposes except as authorized by the provisions of RCW 42.17.13.

At the Wednesday meeting, the commission voted to give Stratton a written reprimand, which can be issued when the commission determines an elected official violated the Ethics Code, but did so without intent.

Stratton released the following statement regarding the Ethics Commision’s decision:

“Yesterday the Ethics Commission concluded that my 2018 letter to the Pasco City Council violated the portion of the ethics code prohibiting use of my position and city resources for the benefit of a third person, in this case a local marijuana retailer. While I am disappointed in the final outcome, I commend the Ethics Commission for the full hearing they devoted to the issue, and for recognizing that any violation of the code on my part amounted to an honest mistake and not an intent to violate the Code. The Commission understood there was no intent to create a special benefit for myself or my family business. The lesson here is that, as a Council member, I must be more careful in my efforts to respond to the concerns of local businesses, and not create an appearance of favoring one business over another.”

RELATED: Ethics complaint filed against Spokane City Councilwoman Karen Stratton