Tacoma deputy mayor used his title to promote business. Ethics board to decide if that’s OK

A screenshot from an email Tacoma Deputy Mayor Anders Ibsen sent for his new real estate business, from his real estate email, in June 2018.
A screenshot from an email Tacoma Deputy Mayor Anders Ibsen sent for his new real estate business, from his real estate email, in June 2018.

Deputy Tacoma Mayor Anders Ibsen passed his broker exam earlier this year and sent out a promotional email for his new real estate business in June.

“As a Certified Residential Appraiser and a City Councilmember, I understand residential markets and the public policies that influence them,” read part of the message, which was sent from Ibsen’s real-estate email address.

His mentioning of his position on the City Council has gotten him into some trouble.

Tacoma’s Board of Ethics will hold a 7 p.m. hearing Thursday, Sept. 6, to determine whether he violated the city’s ethics code by using his public position for private gain.

Ibsen told The News Tribune on Wednesday that the email went to friends, family and campaign supporters and was intended “to highlight that I’m a well-rounded professional who understands the market.”

“I don’t believe I did anything wrong,” he said.

Ibsen has been on the City Council for more than six years, representing District 1, which covers the West End and part of North Tacoma. This is the first ethics complaint he’s had in that time, he said.

Tacoma City Councilman Anders Ibsen Courtesy

“Ethics are really important to me,” he said. “... Never in a million years would I misuse my position for private gain.”

Ibsen signed a contract with Windermere in early June and sent the email newsletter out June 26.

“It’s an honor representing you on the City Council,” it started. “Over these past six years it’s been a privilege listening to your concerns, learning about your priorities, and fighting on your behalf. I’ve decided to add advocating for you in the home market to that list!”

According to city records, two people complained to the ethics board about Ibsen’s promotional materials just a few days later.

One is an unsigned letter that reads: “My relationship with Councilmember Ibsen is purely through politics and his role as a City Councilmember. Were it not for his role on the City Council, he would not have my email address and I would not have received this solicitation.”

Ibsen’s email was attached.

The other complaint was emailed by Claudia Riedener, an organizer with a grassroots group that opposes the liquified natural-gas plant being built at the Port of Tacoma. Riedener argued Ibsen’s email, real estate webpage and a YouTube video used his city position as “sales tools.”

She did not respond to a News Tribune phone call about her concerns.

Ibsen said he’s “really not trying to make too much of the politics of the situation” but that he knows Riedener’s group “has historically had a bit of an ax to grind against the City Council.” He went on to say politics won’t matter to the members of the ethics board.

“I think they care about clarifying the facts and moving forward,” Ibsen said.

The preliminary findings of the board, provided to The News Tribune by Ibsen, were not in his favor.

“Ibsen’s communications used his position as a City Council Member to promote and enhance the reputation of his private business in order to secure personal benefit, gain or profit,” they read.

Ibsen’s attorneys, Evelyn Fielding Lopez and Joseph Lopez, wrote to him in a Aug. 30 memo that the finding is not supported by evidence and that the head of the Board of Ethics who signed the preliminary findings should recuse himself from the matter. The chair, Joseph Atkinson, ran against Ibsen unsuccessfully for City Council in 2011.

Attempts to reach Atkinson for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.

A city spokeswoman said any requests for recusals by board members would be addressed at the hearing.

Ibsen, who also provided his attorneys’ memo to the newspaper, pointed out that Fielding Lopez, a former Tacoma mayoral candidate, used to be the interim head of the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, an assistant state attorney general and the head of the state Public Disclosure Commission.

“Here’s the reality,” the deputy mayor said. “We’re a part-time City Council, some of us have day jobs, and it’s not unethical to apply for a job and list your council experience on a resume, for example.”

The ethics board won’t necessarily make a final decision at the meeting Thursday. It could be some time before it issues a written decision.

Its preliminary findings recommended the City Council vote to order Ibsen to cease and desist violating the code of ethics.

The Tacoma Municipal Code says that’s among the various possible punishments the board can recommend to the City Council for an ethics violation. Some other examples include a verbal admonition and loss of committee assignment.

“I look forward to tomorrow’s hearing to clarify the issue, and whatever they decide, I will abide by their decision,” Ibsen said

The deputy mayor said he regrets “any confusion or misunderstanding my communications have caused.” He said he has worked with legal experts to revise his promotional materials, not because he believes they violated the ethics code, but because “I do understand that appearances matter.”

His Windemere biography online Wednesday identified him as a “Certified Residential Appraiser and long-time policymaker in Tacoma,” whose “diverse experience in community service and our local market have given him a thorough understanding of the economic forces at work in our community.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell