11:47 PM PST on Friday, January 7, 2011

By ALICIA ROBINSON
The Press-Enterprise

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.”

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