By Erich Ebel
Legislation stemming from Sen. Mike Carrell’s ongoing effort to address serious ethical violations among state Department of Corrections managers reached another milestone today. Senate Bill 5063, Carrell’s “ethics in public service” bill, received a public hearing before the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.
A similar Carrell measure, Senate Bill 5577, received a public hearing Thursday in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee, of which Carrell serves as chairman. That measure includes additional provisions to further protect whistleblowers from retribution by management.
“While the process through which my bills have traversed is a bit unorthodox, it speaks to the merit of both of my proposals that two policy committees essentially vied for the opportunity to consider them,” said Carrell, R-Lakewood. “Clearly the need to bring ethical regulation to the management level of state agencies while further protecting whistleblowers is a concern shared by numerous lawmakers here in Olympia.”
When the state Executive Ethics Board receives a complaint about an employee within a state department it usually refers the matter to that agency’s internal investigators, who then determine the validity of the accusation and recommend punishment when warranted. According to Carrell, however, when the complaint is against a member of a department’s management team and is referred to the same group of managers for investigation, the potential for doing nothing about ethics-law violations occurs too often.
SB 5063 would hold managers at state agencies to the same ethical standards as rank-and-file workers and allow the Executive Ethics Board to designate an independent employee or representative from the state attorney general’s office to assist with any managerial investigations. Additionally, Carrell’s bill would require:
- State agencies to designate an ethics advisor to provide informal ethics advice;
- The ethics advisor to ensure uniformity in the agency’s compliance with ethics law;
- Ethics advisors to receive formal training from the ethics board; and
- State officers and employees to attend ethics training within 60 days of employment and at least every three years thereafter.
“This is not roosters watching over chickens in the chicken house,” Carrell said, referring to agency management’s responsibility to oversee subordinate employees. “When management is tasked with investigating fellow managers, that’s roosters judging fellow roosters and the net result is that ethics complaints are too easily buried.
“The bottom line,” Carrell continued, “is that my bill addresses the double standard that exists between management and rank and file – not just at DOC, where it has caused a serious rift between the two, but at some other state agencies as well. There needs to be one standard for everybody.”
If approved by either committee, SB 5063 and SB 5577 would likely be referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.