Two Pierce County Council members want to boost disclosure requirements in the county’s ethics code in light of the recent revelation that several officials held stock in a company for whose product they helped secure public funding.
Councilmen Calvin Goings, D-Puyallup, and Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, plan to introduce an ordinance this fall that would require county department and agency heads to disclose their personal financial interests, just as elected officials now do.
The ordinance, which is still being drafted, would require lobbyists to register with the county and disclose the source of their income. And it may also require the directors of nonprofit groups to file similar disclosures if the groups receive most of their funding from the county.
The ordinance also would require the financial disclosure forms for elected and nonelected officials to be posted on the county’s Web site.
Goings said the discussion of the ethics code was prompted in part by last month’s disclosure that County Executive John Ladenburg and others held stock in Hythiam Inc., a company that licenses the Prometa drug-treatment program.
Goings said the proposal has been in the works for two months, but said “now, obviously, there’s more interest” in light of the Prometa debate.
Last April, the Pierce County Alliance persuaded the County Council to spend $400,000 so the nonprofit agency could use Prometa to treat county Drug Court clients. But a county report last month questioned Prometa’s effectiveness, and the council voted to cut off the remaining $150,000 in funding in the 2007 budget.
Ladenburg has included another $400,000 for the Prometa program in his 2008 budget. He also helped lobby for state funding of the program.
The executive told The News Tribune recently he bought 100 shares of Hythiam stock for $9 per share last year and recently sold the stock for $8.50 per share.
In an interview Thursday, he was not certain about the number of shares he owned and its value. But he said it “could have doubled in price and not amounted to much money.”
Ladenburg said his stock ownership did not influence his actions, and that he lobbied for county and state funding before he owned the stock. He disclosed his stake in the company to the state Public Disclosure Commission as required by law.
Pierce County Alliance Executive Director Terree Schmidt-Whelan told The News Tribune she bought 100 shares of Hythiam stock, and state Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, said he bought 4,000 shares. Each played a role in securing public funding for the company’s drug-treatment program.
Flannigan did not disclose his Hythiam shares to the state. Schmidt-Whelan was not required to disclose her company stock.
Goings called Ladenburg’s decision to buy Hythiam stock “incredibly poor judgment.” He said the incident highlights the need for changes to the county ethics code.
“The public demands open and transparent government,” Goings said. “This incident shows we aren’t as transparent as we should be.”
Under state law, elected officials must disclose their financial assets to the state Public Disclosure Commission. The law is intended to give the public information about financial interests that may influence the conduct of elected officials.
Under the plan proposed by Goings and Farrell, nonelected county department and agency heads would have to disclose financial ties to the county.
Farrell said the council’s staff also is exploring the legality of requiring officials from nonprofit agencies that receive much of their funding from the county to file financial disclosure.
Currently, the disclosure forms of elected officials are not available on the PDC Web site, though the public can request and receive copies by e-mail.
“We need to have these things online,” Farrell said.
The legislation also would require professional lobbyists to register with the county – much as those who lobby state officials must register with the PDC.
They also would be required to disclose who pays their salary and expenses related to county lobbying.
Goings said he hopes the council will approve the legislation by the end of the year.
Other council members reached Thursday were not aware of the proposal. When told of it, their responses were mixed.
Councilman Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, said it raised some good points.
“I’m always looking for more accessible government,” he said.
Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps, said the proposal would need to be studied from a legal and budget perspective.
He said the proposal may not be a “magic fix” that addresses questions raised by the county performance report on Prometa.
Prometa is a program that uses a combination of generic drugs to treat addicts. The county report suggested Prometa was “not exceptionally successful in Pierce County” and was less effective than claimed by Hythiam and the Pierce County Alliance.
The company and the nonprofit agency dispute that report and plan to present the council with additional evidence of Prometa’s effectiveness.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341