Tacoma’s board of ethics will review a complaint that City Councilman Ryan Mello violated the city’s ethics code when he voted to award $50,000 to the Pierce County AIDS Foundation last month.
Mello’s husband, Jerry Hallman, is on the nonprofit’s board of directors. Earlier this month, Mello said Hallman had been on an extended leave of absence from the Pierce County AIDS Foundation’s board. Mello said he consulted with the city attorney about whether it was appropriate for him to vote on the topic.
“He has no financial interest or gain whatsoever,” Mello said of his husband’s service on the PCAF. “It’s a social service agency that helps people who are dying and living with AIDS.”
Duane Wilkerson, the nonprofit’s executive director, said earlier this month that none of the volunteer board members receive pay for their work, which includes voting at regular meetings. Hallman, an insurance agent, had requested a leave of absence from the board in August 2013 due to an increased workload, Wilkerson said. Mello married Hallman in May 2014.
The ethics complaint, filed anonymously on April 6, says a “wiser leader” would have recused himself.
“Money simply shouldn’t go to groups where elected officials have family members working or affiliated, it is just that simple,” the complaint states.
Mello requested the $50,000 appropriation during a March 17 meeting. The money was intended to pay for helping renovate the foundation’s new facility. The memo Mello wrote to the council touts the agency’s history in the community and the need for a new building.
The money comes from what is called the council contingency fund, which in the past has paid for anything from postcards notifying residents of a meeting to funding a farmer’s market on Tacoma’s East Side. Last year, council members voted to allocate $65,000 for renovations to Associated Ministries of Tacoma’s new building.
PCAF bought a new building last August, and finished renovations in February. “The new facility offers 40 percent more space while reducing costs by 35 percent,” Mello’s memo states. The new building, located at 3009 S. 40th St., includes six private meeting areas and flexible meeting rooms.
The PCAF raised $55,000 from people in the community and took out a 25-year loan for most of the rest of the costs. The total project cost is $1.6 million.
The City Council voted unanimously on March 31 to award the money to the nonprofit.
Councilman Joe Lonergan said the next day that he thought it was odd that Mello voted on the issue.
“I don’t know if it’s technically against our rules, but it’s something I wouldn’t do,” Lonergan said. “If my spouse were on a board, I wouldn’t be bringing forward a request for funding for that organization, nor would I be voting on it.”
The board of ethics will review the complaint during its Wednesday meeting.