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December 6, 2007

Legislator admits to ethics violation

Posted by David Postman at 8:36 AM

Rep. Shirley Hankins, R-Richland, has agreed to pay more than $4,000 in penalties after the Legislative Ethics Board found she repeatedly violated the law by using her office to promote family business interests. That is the largest settlement ever agreed to by the board.

The ethics investigation followed a series of stories by the Tri-City Herald. You can read the paper's past coverage here. Reporter Chris Mulick wrote about the settlement in today's paper.

The stipulated agreement details work Hankins did on behalf of Northwest Tire Recycling, a company owned by her daughter and son-in-law. The ethics board found a

fact pattern which demonstrates that Respondent has been unable to appropriately separate her legislative interests in tire recycling from the business interests of NWT.

The full order will be available later at the board's Web site. One of the things Hankins did to help her daughter's company was attempt to influence the Department of Ecology.

Respondent repeatedly intervened with the Department of Ecology and often in an argumentative and threatening fashion. DOE employees will testify that while Respondent did not influence agency decisions relative to NWT and the first Goldendale contract "she certainly influenced our workload."

One letter from Hankins to DOE included this passage:


Your office, as well as the Director of Ecology, was contacted. The department was offered assistance of cleanup. Your office and the Director's office have not responded as of yesterday, May 17th. I would like to know why. The Department of Ecology has allowed the site to be cleaned up by an illegal, unlicensed, and un-permitted corporation. They continue to call and harass your only legal and permitted company. I'm not sure why I've spent the last three and a half years on a tire bill that gives your department authority to help solve this state's problems, and that would give your department your only legal and permitted company in this state. Frankly, I'm a little tired of this.

Hankins issued a statement last night. While she signed the agreement, she disagrees with the findings.

While my greatest respect is for the institution of the Legislature, I am extremely disappointed with certain findings of the Legislative Ethics Board. It was never my intent to promote one company over another, but to ensure that the Department of Ecology carried out the job the Legislature asked the agency to do. . . and that was to dispose of tire piles that constitute a serious environmental threat to the health and safety of our citizens.

...

I believe it is in the best interest of the 8th District to expeditiously settle this matter and to move forward. Therefore, I have decided not to contest the matter, but instead, bring it to a close. I will respectfully accept and abide by penalties stipulated by the board.

It will now be interesting to see how House Republican leaders react. Republican Leader Richard DeBolt has moved quickly to discipline members for misconduct. He pushed Rep. Richard Curtis to resign after his sex scandal and removed Rep. Jim Dunn from all his legislative committee assignments after he made an inappropriate sexual remark to a female legislative staffer.

Will DeBolt now use the ethics board settlement to strip Hankins of her committee assignments or otherwise add punishment to what is in the stipulation?

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