RIVERSIDE: Some residents want rule changes after revelations of some questionable conduct.

11:21 PM PDT on Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

The political turmoil that has roiled Riverside for much of 2010 has some residents calling for a stronger city ethics code.

In the six years since voters made the code part of the city charter, a total of nine ethics complaints have been filed. Four of them were filed in the past year.

The two complaints that were heard by the mayor’s nominating and screening committee were judged to be unfounded. The others were determined to be outside the code’s scope or were resolved without a hearing.

That doesn’t mean residents always are satisfied with city officials’ conduct. Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely, chairwoman of The Group, a community issues forum, and Alex Tortes, a resident and member of the Eastside Think Tank, both said they think the code should be strengthened in light of recent issues like the improper sale of police guns to city administrators, illegal use of untraceable license plates on city officials’ cars, and a top administrator keeping city records on Post-It notes.

Their concerns will get a hearing Wednesday during an annual review of the code, when Vaughn-Blakely plans to suggest changes. She headed the citizens committee that wrote the code in 2005.

She said The Group is asking that the ethics code be expanded beyond the council, mayor and appointed board and commission members to include top staff: the city manager, assistant city managers, department heads and program managers.

Some of the issues raised in the last year involving city management weren’t legal questions, but they were ethical ones, and “we have no guide for those folks in terms of ethics,” Vaughn-Blakely said.

She also wants the code changed so it applies to public officials at all times. It now is written so it is only applicable when the official is performing the duties of office.

Councilman Andy Melendrez, who chairs the governmental affairs committee, supported that change in 2009 but was outvoted by the council. He said Friday that he will propose it again.

“One of the things that I think our community expects of us is to be a representative of the city of Riverside wherever we go,” he said.

Vaughn-Blakely and Tortes also want an independent board named to hear ethics complaints. Currently, a committee that includes the mayor and two council members addresses complaints, including any about their council colleagues.

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