By Jim Tortolano
After nearly three hours of debate and public comments, the Westminster City Council voted narrowly to approve a slimmed-down code of ethics Wednesday night.
The vote was 3-0-2, with Mayor Tri Ta and council members Kimberly Ho and Chi Charlie Nguyen in favor and council members Sergio Contreras and Tai Do abstaining.
With their action, the council majority approved “Attachment 2,” a one-page document that is similar to a code already in place for the City of Huntington Beach. It does not include the “code of conduct” proposed under the original plan submitted to the council months ago.
The final vote was preceded by long, often loud and sometimes controversial comments by members of the public in the oral communications segment. Nearly 30 people addressed the council on the matter, six of them speaking primarily in Vietnamese (a brief English translation was made afterwards).
In arguing for or against a particular code of conduct, speakers outlined their reasons for their opinions, but sometimes strayed into personal attacks. Council members and sometimes other speakers were accused of dishonesty, being pro-communist, having marital problems or trying to pit whites and other ethnic groups against the Vietnamese population of the city, now estimated at about 48 percent.
After the public comments, Nguyen led the charge for the majority in favor of the shorter code. “We never intended to not have a code of conduct,” he said. He preferred the briefer version – compared to a 14-page document earlier proposed with many specific issues and topics – and quoted Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that public officials should “act ethically whether or not required to by law.”
Ho called the longer code a “political stunt” by Do and rejected some its tenets. “Being polite doesn’t rise to the level of ethics,” she said.
Do fired back that a specific code was in response to a lawsuit against the city in which a former police chief alleged that he had been pressured by former council members on the hiring and promotion of police officers. He called the shorter version so non-specific as to be a “code of misconduct.”
Contreras sought to strike a middle ground. After a motion to approve the briefer version was made, he sought to continue the matter so that a code of conduct could be added to the code of ethics later. That motion failed 3-2 with Contreras and Do in the minority.
The complete code can be found on the city’s website: westminster-ca.gov .