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Kennewick council to decide on Trumbo’s ethics complaint on Tuesday


Kennewick Councilor John Trumbo

Tri-City Herald File

Kennewick City Councilor John Trumbo violated a city code dealing with personal integrity when he called and questioned a woman about her real estate dealings with State Senator Sharon Brown.

Trumbo says he “did whatever it took to properly identify himself” and to make it clear to the buyer that he was not acting in his capacity as a member of the city council, the head of the city wrote. Kennewick’s ethics in its five-page decision.

“It says a lot that the day after the phone conversation, two people called the town to complain,” attorney Thomas Atwood concluded after a hearing in February.

However, Atwood also concluded that the violation was not based on any improper motive and was not part of a pattern of conduct.

Tuesday, The other six members of Trumbo’s board of directors decide whether to follow Atwood’s recommendation and reprimand the councilor for his conduct.

The complaint is under new business at the Kennewick City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m., which will be broadcast live online.

Trumbo has fought the ethics complaint since it was brought against him last November by councilor Charles Torelli and then-councilor Paul Parish.

TO public hearing on the complaint in February, Trumbo said it was not valid and requested that it be rejected outright.

His issue is with Senator Brown, who he says has not been honest with the Benton County Republican Party about a licensed marijuana greenhouse business that was founded and operated by her ex-husband and his son.

Brown, his ex Fraser Hawley, John Hawley and businessman Thomas Arnold are all defendants in a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Michael Shemali and his company, MS Properties.

Shemali alleges that they failed to repay $ 350,000 on two loans totaling $ 750,000 to help the defendants’ company, Pure Green.

Brown left the lawsuit because she was married to Fraser Hawley when the promissory note contracts were initiated in 2016.

She said in court documents that she was not involved and had no knowledge of the promissory notes, had not signed any of these company-related documents and is now divorced from Hawley with a postnuptial. She asked that any claim against their matrimonial heritage be dismissed.

Senator Sharon Brown Washington state

Brown is an attorney and former member of the Kennewick Council who was appointed in 2013 to the Washington Senate representing the 8th Legislative District.

She is one of six people vying to replace Judge Bruce Spanner when he retires at the end of the year from the bench of the Benton-Franklin Superior Court.

Fraser Hawley, who appears to be representing himself in the civil action, wrote in a court record that he never received the loan money and was not aware of any conversations between Shemali and Arnold.

He also said his son was the governor and registered agent of Pure Green, and took issue with claims he bragged about his marriage to the state senator when discussing trade deals or his reliability and ability to repay loans.

The couple’s former home in Canyon Lakes was sold last September to LuAnn Davison.

Buyer call

Trumbo contacted the buyer in October and asked in-depth questions about the sale, in addition to a mechanic’s lien on the house and whether any renovations had been done.

Davison said during the February hearing that when she recalled Trumbo’s call, he identified himself as a city councilor, but said she might recognize his name as a longtime reporter as well. of the Tri-City Herald.

She said the conversation was inappropriate after initially believing he wanted to talk to her about town affairs. She complained to Kennewick Town Hall and secured a meeting with the City Manager, City Attorney and Chief of Police.

Jean Trumbo
Jean Trumbo

In his own version of the phone call, Trumbo said he told Davison he was a retired city councilor and journalist only because he didn’t want to be mistaken for the retired Umatilla County Sheriff, John Trumbo. He said he wanted to make this distinction because he knew Davison worked at Hermiston.

When Davison asked on the call if he was writing a newspaper article, Trumbo said he told him he was no longer working as a reporter.

He claims to have repeated later that he called as a private citizen and not as a city councilor. He said he then telephoned Brown “out of courtesy”, and Brown responded to his message by sending an email to the Town Manager of Kennewick.

Ethics complaint

Torelli and Parish said they signed the ethics complaint in November as it was clear to them that what Trumbo had done was against the city’s code of ethics for council members.

Parish said it was wrong for a council member to ask a resident financial questions, and said he had previously told Trumbo he should “stop being a journalist and start being a council member. “.

Trumbo issued a two-page press release in April speaking of its own “investigation”, starting in 2018, which led to “dozens and dozens of public documents and other statements of fact” into the alleged knowledge of Brown from her husband and stepson’s marijuana business. .

He also alleges that Brown was “an accomplice in a scheme” involving the filing of a mechanic’s lien on the house after failing to pay the renovation costs. He says his investigation shows that no building permit has been issued for the house and believes the lien is bogus.

According to Atwood’s findings, the crux of the complaint against Trumbo was that the city councilor was using his position or title to seek information improperly.

The Council’s code of ethics stipulates that “the professional and personal conduct of officials must be irreproachable and avoid even the appearance of impropriety”.

Atwood acknowledged Trumbo’s argument that Torelli and Parish’s complaint “was not sworn under penalty of perjury.”

However, both testified under oath at the February hearing. And public order is better served if a case is decided on the merits, rather than dismissed on the basis of a procedural error, Atwood wrote.

As for the home buyer, she got “the impression that Mr. Trumbo was trying to obtain information under false pretenses,” Atwood said in his hearing decision. Ms. Davison felt the phone call was too intrusive, so she reached out to Kennewick Town officials to complain about the conversation.

Ability to investigate

Trumbo had argued that he had the right to investigate matters, especially if there are public documents, without obtaining prior permission from other council members.

“Sir. Trumbo’s motivation was not to encroach on Ms. Davison, but to learn more about the seller’s situation,” Atwood wrote. “He was not motivated by personal advancement nor by personal gain. “

Lawyer Thomas Atwood is Kennewick’s Ethics Officer. Annette Cary Herald of the Three Cities

Atwood said that while the evidence presented by Trumbo suggests that Brown had “financial, personal and even political problems” and “some sort of intimate scandal”, it is not his role as the ethics officer of the city ​​to determine if it has engaged in inappropriate activities.

Brown’s conduct is irrelevant to this case, and the only problem is Trumbo’s conversation with the buyer, he said.

Trumbo asked “intrusive questions” and, despite his efforts to the contrary, he “wrongly created the impression that he was acting in his capacity as a member of city council”.

The motive for his conduct seems well-intentioned, Atwood concluded, but the reason does not justify the method.

“Sir. Trumbo said at the board meeting that he couldn’t help himself if anyone thought he was ‘dishonest’, Atwood said. ‘intention to make a false appearance, he certainly left one with Ms. Davison. “

Council members have a duty to avoid creating the appearance of impropriety, and that is why he recommended that Trumbo be reprimanded, Atwood said.

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Kristin M. Kraemer covers the justice system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She was a journalist for over 20 years in Washington and California.