Kennewick mayor files 4 ethics complaints as he leaves office

Kennewick’s outgoing mayor, Don Britain, filed ethics complaints against three fellow councilmen as one of his last acts in office in December. But with a new year and new council members, the city council’s ethics policy could change, leaving the path forward for the new complaints uncertain. The ethics policy […]

Kennewick’s outgoing mayor, Don Britain, filed ethics complaints against three fellow councilmen as one of his last acts in office in December.

But with a new year and new council members, the city council’s ethics policy could change, leaving the path forward for the new complaints uncertain.

The ethics policy is on the agenda for the council’s first meeting of the new year at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, to be held at City Hall and streamed online.

The complaints, also signed by outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Steve Lee, accuse Councilmen Bill McKay, John Trumbo and Brad Beauchamp of violating the state’s open meetings law and an additional complaint that McKay violated the state’s public records law.

The alleged ethics violations took place two years ago when the three councilmen signed an ethics complaint against Britain.

The new complaints, filed Dec. 20, were forwarded to the city’s public records officer, Kennewick attorney Tom Atwood.

But his contract with the city of Kennewick expired at the end of December before action was taken.

The council is scheduled to discuss on Tuesday whether to renew Atwood’s contract or take other action.

That could include repealing the ethics code or modifying it, according to the agenda and documents prepared for the Tuesday meeting.

Britain and Lee won’t have a say in any changes to the ethics policy. Both were voted out of office in November.

Britain’s seat on the council went to developer and business owner Gretl Crawford and Lee’s seat went to dentist Loren Anderson.

A new mayor and mayor pro tem will be picked by council members on Tuesday, the first that Crawford and Anderson will attend as council members.

Their election is expected to shift the balance of power on the often-divided, seven-member council, giving McKay, Beauchamp and Trumbo more leverage. Crawford and Anderson were called part of a “dream team” with the three during the election.

2Kennewick City Council screenshot.jpg
This screenshot shows the Kennewick City council members and city staff during a recent remote council meeting.

3rd use of ethics policy

The ethics policy for council members was created in 2019 and had been used twice before the complaints filed in December. In both previous complaints, which were filed in late 2019 and early 2020, the councilmen targeted said they believed complaints against them were politically motivated.

Trumbo was reprimanded for using his council position for personal gain after he called a new home buyer on a matter that he said had nothing to do with his position as a councilman but she believed that he was calling on city business.

John Trumbo

In the other case, McKay, Trumbo and Beauchamp filed an ethics complaint against Britain two years ago.

It was dismissed after the ethics officer determined that Britain could not be sanctioned for actions that did not directly relate to his actions as a councilman.

The ethics policy says that “professional and personal conduct of officials must be above reproach and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

But the ethics officer said personal conduct should only be considered if there were egregious behavior outside of city business, such as a felony conviction or conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, neither of which applied to the complaint against Britain.

The complaint had been filed after Britain was fired from his job with the Washington state Department of Health and Social Services after an administrative investigation by the Washington State Patrol had looked into his relationship with a female welfare client.

The most recent complaints filed Dec. 20 circle back to the dismissed complaint against Britain.

Latest ethics complaints

McKay, Beauchamp and Trumbo knowingly violated the state’s open meeting law to get council members to sign the ethics complaint against Britain in January 2020, according to Britain and Lee.

A majority of council members are not allowed by state law to discuss council business outside of council meetings, whether in person or electronically. It could constitute a “serial” meeting outside the public process.

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Councilman Bill McKay

But McKay contacted five council members, which is a quorum, to get other council members to sign the ethics complaint against Britain, Britain posted on the Facebook account he used for the November election.

McKay contacted some of them through his wife’s personal email account, Britain said.

In addition, McKay said during the Jan. 7, 2020, council meeting that he had contacted all council members to give them an opportunity to sign the ethics complaint against Britain, according to the complaint.

Then during the meeting, McKay conducted more signature gathering even though that was not on the agenda, the complaint said.

McKay turned in the ethics complaint to the city clerk early in the Jan. 7, 2020, meeting.

“Bill McKay is one of the most judgmental, dishonest, and perjurious persons to ever serve on the Kennewick City Council,” Britain posted on his election Facebook page Friday.

McKay told the Tri-City Herald that he learned shortly after the 2020 meeting that he should not contact a quorum of other council members and admitted then that what he had done was wrong.

That it is coming up two years later is “obviously a case of sour grapes” because Britain and Lee lost the election, he said.

Trumbo, contacted by the Tri-City Herald, said all he knew was that McKay contacted him about the ethics complaint but he would not have known who else McKay might have contacted.

Any discussion of the complaint at the council meeting two years ago before it was submitted would have taken place out of his hearing, he said.

Brad Beauchamp.jpg
Brad Beauchamp

Beauchamp said he was not sworn in as a new member until the council meeting on Jan. 7, 2020, so any communication with him before the meeting would not count as part of a council quorum.

He’s also concerned that the complaint was not filed for two years, appearing to be a “grenade” thrown as Britain left office, he said.

If it was about doing what is best for the city it would have been filed in 2020, he said.

The new council will work to avoid making the council the focus and instead focus on issues to improve the city, he said.

Public records violation?

The additional complaint filed against McKay on Dec. 20 accuses him of violating the state’s public records request law.

He bypassed the city’s public records officer when local government watchdog Roger Lenk, who died recently, filed a request for city documents in early 2020 related to the ethics complaint against the mayor, according to the new ethics complaint.

Britain said McKay went to Lenk’s house and let Lenk download emails, which included city documents, from his email account.

However, McKay said he was trying to be helpful and put emails that were public documents on a jump drive and took them to Lenk to fulfill Lenk’s public records request in the spirit of open government.

But he says now he should have let the city’s public records officer handle the request.

Comments on the city’s ethics policy may be made at the meeting at city hall or live on the internet or by telephone if registration is done by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

More information on commenting is posted on the agenda at

Britain said he planned to speak as a member of the public.

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Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.

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