Trumbo again under council scrutiny after ‘complaints’ about probing phone calls

The Kennewick City Council will discuss a pair of complaints targeting Councilman John Trumbo at its regular business session Tuesday.

The complaints stem from inquiries Trumbo apparently made about a real estate transaction and a divorce.

The council discussed the allegations behind closed doors in October, but Trumbo asked that the matter be discussed in ab open session.

He wouldn’t elaborate on the matter when contacted Monday.

“It will be a surprise to a lot of people. I don’t want to give a lead on that,” he told the Herald. He added that discussing the matter in open session is consistent with his mission to hold government accountable.

“I believe everything should be in daylight. I’m still trying to make government accountable. I’m not going to stop,” he said.

The mysterious complaints come as Kennewick moves to implement a new ethics policy to address misconduct charges against elected leaders.

The city council is expected to hire attorney Tom Atwood, formerly of the Richland firm of Armstrong, Klym, Waite, Atwood & Jameson, to serve as its new ethics officer.

Atwood will work on an as-needed basis at a rate of $240 an hour.

Sought discussion in public

The complaint involving Trumbo is not being treated as an ethics issue.

It could rise to that level if two other council members agree to initiate the formal ethics process.

According to the city, two phone call complaints were forwarded to City Manager Marie Mosley on Oct. 15.

The callers were the current and previous owners of a residential property. They reported that Trumbo contacted them both about the recent transaction.

John Trumbo

According to a summary of the calls, Trumbo identified himself as a council member and asked about the purchase, the previous owners’ divorce, a mechanics lien filed against the home, potential work previously done on the property and the assessed value of the property.

Information is public

Divorce records, property transactions, assessed value, liens and building permits are public information. They can be accessed through public databases such as the Odyssey court records system, Benton County Assessor’s Office and Kennewick building permit data, among others.

The unnamed callers did not understand the connection between Trumbo’s questions and his position as an elected city council member.

In April, the council sanctioned Trumbo, a retired Tri-City Herald reporter, for representing himself as a councilman in his unauthorized investigation into unfounded rumors about Mayor Pro Tem Steve Lee.

He was removed from board and committee assignments for the rest of 2019.

New ethics policy

The council later adopted an ethics policy that formalizes the process to tackle complaints targeting the city’s elected officials.

Under the policy, it takes two city council members to initiate a complaint against a peer. The ethics officer then investigates.

If the ethics officer finds grounds for the complaint, the city council can issue a warning, reprimand, censure, remove the council member from boards and commissions and even fine them up to $1,000, or three times the value of any benefit they received in violation of the ethics policy.

Sanctions can be waived or reduced if the council member incurs no additional complaints.

The ethics policy passed on a 5-2 vote, with Trumbo and Councilman Bill McKay voting no.

Citizens wishing to complain can bring their concerns to a member of the council to begin the process.

Lusignan confirmed the complaints involving Trumbo are unusual.

As of Monday, the city has received no complaints alleging ethics violations by a sitting councilman.

The council meets at 5:30 p.m. at city hall, 610 W. Sixth Ave. — an hour earlier than normal because of election day.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.