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Boise Ethics Committee dismisses complaint about Holli Woodings’ service in legislature

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The City of Boise’s Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint raising questions about city council members serving as substitutes in the Idaho Legislature brought by a local activist. 

On Thursday, the commission released its decision on a complaint filed earlier this year by Boise Working Together board member David Klinger raising questions about City Council Pro Tem Holli Woodings’ three-day stint as a legislative substitute in March. Klinger asked the commission to rule if it was appropriate for her to serve as a substitute in the legislature, which makes laws that impact the City of Boise, while she was also serving on city council. The complaint also asked the commission to rule if she appropriately recused herself from any votes at both the state and local level between March 1 and March 3, 2022. 

The Ethics Commission dismissed the violation because the matter was outside of the commission’s jurisdiction and “the facts, if true, do not establish a violation of the Code of Ethics.” 

The commission also declined Klinger’s request for an advisory opinion because they are only able to be requested by a current city officer, official, appointee, or employee, or those who intend to hold these positions and Klinger does not meet the criteria. Advisory opinions allow people who hold city positions to ask if participating in an activity or action would break city ethics rules before it happens. Because this item was in the past and Klinger is not asking for guidance before completing any action, this matter is not eligible. 

Klinger was frustrated with the decision in a phone interview on Friday. He said the ethics commission shouldn’t have interpreted the matter so narrowly when saying the issue wasn’t part of their purview. Klinger thinks at the very least Woodings should have disclosed she was serving in the legislature to the Boise City Council, instead of merely posting about it frequently on her social media account. 

“I think there’s an inherent conflict in this sort of a situation and that it calls for elected officials to scrupulously avoid putting themselves in such a conflicted role,” Klinger said. “There’s the old adage that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. An elected official should go the extra mile to avoid the appearance of a conflict.”

Though Klinger’s complaint was specifically about Woodings, it’s not the first time this situation has taken place. Former council member Maryanne Jordan served in the Idaho Legislature full time after she was appointed by former Gov. Butch Otter to fill the Senate seat in District 17 in 2015. She retained her Boise City Council spot until the end of the term in early 2017.

Woodings pleased with the finding. 

“I’m grateful to the volunteers of our independent ethics commission for their thorough consideration of citizen ethics complaints,” she wrote in a text message. 

The Boise Ethics Commission won’t interpret state law 

Klinger’s complaint raised four questions about Woodings’ service as a legislative substitute and by extension the general practice of someone serving in both chambers. 

The first question was whether or not Woodings, as a city official, qualified as “a suitable person” to serve as a legislative substitute for Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise. The commission declined to address this question, saying it was not up to them to interpret state law.

“As set forth previously, the commission’s jurisdiction extends to questions of whether a current City of Boise officer, official, or employee has failed to comply with the Code of Ethics,” the decision reads. “This portion of the inquiry seeks an interpretation of a state statute that delegates certain discretionary authority to the governor.”

The commission also declined to weigh in on Klinger’s question about whether or not Woodings appropriately recused herself from votes at the Idaho Legislature where she might have a conflict of interest due to her service on the Boise City Council. Under Idaho Legislature House of Representatives Rule 80, members may vote on items they have a personal interest in as long as it is disclosed beforehand. 

Ethics Commission finds no evidence of conflict of interest

The Ethics Commission found no evidence that Woodings had a conflict of interest of a ny kind serving in both offices for three days. 

In its reply to Klinger, the Ethics Commission cited the city’s ethics code, which requires disclosing conflicts of interest and disqualifying themselves from voting. But, the Commission found nothing Woodings did during this period qualified as an “actual” conflict. 

“Pursuant to section 1-8-4(A), a city official has an “actual” conflict of interest when the circumstances would require the official to take an action or make a decision that would affect his or her personal financial or pecuniary interests or those of a member of her household or a business with which she is associated,” the decision reads. “The commission finds nothing in the inquiry to support the conclusion that Woodings had an actual conflict on any of the matters identified in this question.”

There are also “apparent” conflicts of interest, which don’t affect someone’s finances but “nevertheless calls into question his or her objectivity or independence.” But, the commission said there was no evidence Woodings had an apparent conflict of interest either and instead asks the reader to presume anyone holding two offices, even temporarily, has put themselves in a situation where there is a conflict of interest.  

The commission’s decision said they do not agree with Klinger’s interpretation of the situation and “declines to accept the invitation to adopt such a presumption.”

“The commission does not dispute the possibility that specific facts surrounding the holding of two offices might give rise to a conflict of interest on a matter or matters that come before a City of Boise official, just as specific facts surrounding any other status, activities, or circumstances of a City of Boise official might give rise to a conflict of interest,” the decision reads. “However, this inquiry has not identified any such facts with respect to any specific matter or matters involving Woodings.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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