Ethics comes to the forefront at city council meeting

Councilmember Jacobson not penalized for asserted ethics violations.

Ethics were placed in the spotlight at Mercer Island City Council’s regular hybrid meeting on April 2.

Councilmember Jake Jacobson went under council’s lens for approximately 20 minutes regarding a disposition of the code of an ethics complaint filed against him. Jacobson was elected to council in 2020, and is currently serving his second four-year term.

By a 4-2 count, council voted to “reject the hearing examiner’s conclusions and impose no penalty for the ethics violations asserted against councilmember Jacobson.”

A timeline of the matter shows that Richard Erwin registered the complaint in the form of a letter to the city attorney’s office dated Dec. 7, 2023, stating, in part, that Jacobson, “misused city resources by using his official city email account to further his political campaign.”

On Dec. 14, 2023, the matter went before the city ethics officer, who reviewed the complaint and determined sufficiency that the website link redirected users to Jacobson’s election campaign website, according to documents.

The ethics hearing examiner, who served on behalf of Sound Law Center, then received the case and conducted a hearing on Jan. 30, 2024. The examiner said there was a preponderance of evidence supporting the determination that Jacobson violated the city’s ethics code, according to signed documents on Feb. 27, 2024. However, the examiner continued, because Jacobson removed the link from his city-issued email address, “and due to other facts and circumstances leading to the proven violations,” it was recommended that Mercer Island City Council “dispose of the complaint without imposing any sanctions or penalties” on the councilmember.

Fast-forward to April 2, and council adhered to the city code that it “must afford deference to the Hearing Examiner’s recommendation and take action in disposition of the complaint.”

Per Jacobson’s request, the deliberations were conducted in an open public meeting rather than behind closed doors in executive session. Voting in favor of the motion were Lisa Anderl, Mayor Salim Nice, Deputy Mayor David Rosenbaum and Wendy Weiker; on the opposing side were Craig Reynolds and Ted Weinberg.

Jacobson explained why he suggested that council hold the discussion in public: “I think the public has a right to know about ethics and about ethics allegations.”

Delving into the situation, Jacobson doesn’t feel there was weighty evidence to support the officer and examiner’s conclusions. Anderl, who made the motion, added that: “I just don’t want to actually put the city in a position where we have to go to Superior Court to defend something that’s indefensible.”

On the “no” side, Weinberg referred to the documents that mentioned a reported link redirection: “Whether or not that redirection was done by Councilmember Jacobson or someone working at his behest, it seems clear that at one point, the redirection existed.”

Looking back at the matter and moving forward, Jacobson told the Reporter: “It will also give us an opportunity to make the necessary revisions, I think, to our ethics code. It will benefit everybody concerned.”

Weiker discussed the ethics code at the meeting: “My hope is that we can make this code clearer so that we don’t have these kinds of complaints come forward that I don’t think hold enough merit to warrant the time, energy and funds, and certain angst that goes with that.”

At the meeting, Nice mentioned, in part, the service that Jacobson has provided the city for many years. The documents note that Jacobson’s website supplied information about “how to support Mercer Island businesses during the COVID 19 pandemic and perhaps about Mercer Island Youth and Family Services.”

To view the meeting, visit: