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Ethics complaints filed against City Councilwoman Kate Burke; at least two then withdrawn

December 21, 2018

At least two of three ethics complaints filed this week against Spokane City Councilwoman Kate Burke for her participation in a protest in front of City Hall have been withdrawn in less than 48 hours after they were posted publicly.

Katherine Brynelsen filed one of the initial complaints, which alleged violation of the city’s code of ethics when Burke demonstrated against city laws that protesters said criminalized homlessness earlier this month. In an email, Brynelsen said two of the complaints had been withdrawn, after her phone number and that of other complainants was posted online as part of paperwork filed with the city’s Ethics Commission.

In his complaint, Shawn Brynelsen, who identified himself as a constituent from her district, wrote that Burke was “conspiring with lawbreakers” when she participated in a protest with activists Charlie Milo Johansen, Joan Medina and Alfredo LLamedo earlier this month.

At the protest, Burke and several local activists chained themselves together in a line in front of the remnants of “Camp Hope,” the homeless encampment that grew up around LLamedo’s weeklong hunger strike over the city’s controversial laws prohibiting camping and sitting or lying on public land. Police had left notices on the camp residents’ tents 48 hours before the protest, saying they needed to remove their possessions or they would be considered abandoned and would be destroyed.

Police removed the camp the day after the protest.

Katherine Brynelsen said in an email that she was disabled and that she and others, such as Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richards, had been harassed by protesters when they went to City Hall for council meetings. She later emailed indicating she was withdrawing her complaint.

Shawn Brynelsen wrote in his complaint they he saw illegal behavior, including drug use and littering, at the camp in front of City Hall and that Burke was not upholding the city’s laws when she participated in the protest. He added that he did not believe Burke could be impartial when making decisions about the sit-lie law due to her friendship with John Lemus, a member of the city’s Human Rights Commission who briefly stayed in her basement.

Burke questioned the validity of the complaints, noting that the rules she is accused of violating are from the City Council rules of procedure, not the city’s code of ethics.

“I was a little confused by the complaint because it’s not an ethics thing,” she said.

The city’s code of ethics bars city officers or employees from using their position for financial or personal gain, or accepting gifts. It also requires city officials to treat people fairly and equitably.

Burke said her participation in the protest did not violate the code of ethics because it includes a section encouraging people to participate in the political process and she was exercising her First Amendment rights.

“People can be mad at me if they want,” she said, “but this is just a waste of money for our city attorney who has to go through this.”

Lemus said he does not know how the complainants found out that he briefly stayed in Burke’s basement, but he does not believe it would affect her views or ability to make decisions as a city councilwoman.

The initial hearing for the complaint has been scheduled Jan. 16 at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 5A in City Hall.

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