By ALICIA ROBINSON
As soon as next week, sharing an ethics concern about a Riverside city official will be as simple as using the city website to fill out an online form.
The new form, the way complaints are handled, and the deadline for filing them came out of several months of deliberation and a last-minute tug-of-war by the City Council. Taken together, they’re the most significant revisions made to the city’s ethics code since it was written in 2005.
A voter-approved provision in the city charter says the city must have an ethics code. The code describes expected behavior for Riverside’s elected officials and appointed members of boards and commissions.
Anyone who believes an official has violated the guidelines can file a complaint, with the council ultimately deciding whether to censure an elected official or remove an appointed one.
This week, the council signed off on changes to the code that designate a panel of board and commission heads to hear complaints, which used to be heard by council members. The changes also more clearly outline complaint procedures and set the deadline to file complaints at six months from the “date of discovery” of an alleged ethics breach, which allows more leeway in case a problem is uncovered months or years later.
That deadline led to a split vote in November, and it caused some consternation at the council’s Tuesday meeting.
Councilman Andy Melendrez proposed removing the deadline completely, but no one seconded that. Then, Councilman Chris Mac Arthur said he was changing his vote to support an earlier recommendation that complaints be filed within six months of the incident they were about, but that motion failed on a split vote.
Finally, the council voted 6-1, with Steve Adams dissenting, to stick with the “date of discovery” language.
“I saw this as an affirmation of the ethics code,” Mayor Ron Loveridge said by phone Friday. “The vote on Tuesday indicated widespread agreement with the ethics code as it was presented.”
Some residents had urged the city to make the code more user-friendly, and they cautioned that having council members hear complaints about each other creates a conflict of interest.
Michael Dunn, a resident who has closely followed the ethics issue, said he’s pleased with the revisions to the code. “It’s been a struggle, but it seems like we’ve made a step in the right direction with all of this,” he said.
A police watchdog group that Dunn co-chairs, the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability, may give the new guidelines their first test. Dunn’s wife, Linda, said Friday the group intends to refile a complaint that was rejected in September as untimely because it dealt with events from more than two years ago.
The group has argued that the events weren’t publicly known until recently.
Reach Alicia Robinson at 951-368-9461 or arobinson@PE.com