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Washington DOC Employee Faces Ethics Complaint for Running Non-Profits on State Time Using State Resources

by Matt Clarke

In 2005, Washington Department of Corrections Secretary Harold Clarke reprimanded DOC employee Belinda D. Stewart for selling Avon products to her co-workers at the Purdy women’s prison after she was ordered not to conduct private business with DOC staff.

Instead of learning a lesson about co-mingling her work duties and private business, Stewart merely switched the type of business she did on state time to nonprofit organizations, according to an ethics complaint filed by state Senator Mark Carrell.

The March 18, 2011 complaint accuses Stewart, now the DOC’s Communications and Outreach Director, of using state computers, vehicles and employees to run at least five non-profit organizations from her DOC office. Those nonprofits, including the National Association of Women in Criminal Justice (NAWCJ) and the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice (NABCJ), used the address of the DOC’s headquarters in Tumwater as their mailing address. Stewart is also the registered agent for the nonprofit Washington Corrections Association (WCA).

The ethics complaint states that Stewart misused “at least 593 hours of state DOC employee time” over a two-year period, which reflected “the work of only one employee,” a graphics technician. The complaint alleges that other DOC employees also worked for Stewart’s nonprofits from their state offices, and that money was raised from Stewart’s subordinates for the nonprofit organizations.

“It’s a blatant misuse of state resources to support outside businesses and solicit funds in direct violation of DOC’s own policies at the time,” Carrell said in his ethics complaint.
Two other complaints have been filed against Stewart with the Executive Ethics Board, which has the power to fine state workers. However, the Board asked the DOC to first conduct an internal investigation.

“We’re in the final days of completing it,” said then-DOC Secretary Eldon Vail, in what he referred to as a preliminary conclusion. “From a non-thorough look, I haven’t seen a smoking gun at this point. I have seen someone trying to work to support staff in the agency,” he remarked, noting that the two-year-old NAWCJ likely had “dozens” of DOC employees as members.

The NAWCJ initially received permission from the family of slain Lakewood police officer Tina Griswold to use her name to raise money for scholarships the organization wanted to award to criminal justice students. Later the family withdrew its permission and started its own scholarship fund, citing concerns over NAWCJ’s mission, finances and Stewart’s failure to answer their questions.

A few weeks after the first ethics complaint was filed, Vail signed a document outlining the appropriate participation of employees involved with NAWCJ. The DOC and Stewart also entered into a “memorandum of understanding” that would permit the infrequent use of state employees and equipment for NAWCJ purposes, and allow DOC staff members to take administrative leave to attend NAWCJ training conferences. A similar agreement applied to NABCJ and WCA. Vail justified the agreements by saying they provided DOC staff with access to important training; the DOC’s ethics rules on the use of state resources were rewritten around the same time.

Senator Carrell said he believes the agreements and policy rewrites were “a concerted effort by Ms. Stewart to ‘grandfather in’ her private business activities to try to make them appropriate within DOC policies, many years after much of the unethical behavior took place.” He emphasized that her nonprofit-related activities while on state time were too frequent to be allowed even under the new DOC policies.

On September 9, 2011, the Executive Ethics Board, in a 3-0 decision, made a preliminary finding that there was “reasonable cause” to believe Stewart had violated state ethics laws by using “state resources including her time, her staff’s time, state computers, state vehicles and the state electronic mail system far in excess of the de minimis (negligible) use rule to further the agenda of” NABCJ, NAWCJ and WCA. The Board’s report was forwarded to Stewart for a response, after which time a hearing will be scheduled.

Following the Board’s decision, Senator Carrell asked current DOC Secretary Bernie Warner to fire Stewart. “I would hope that he would be using this as a reason to clean house,” Carrell stated. “This didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was condoned by people up the food chain.” At the very least, he noted, Stewart had “exercised exceptionally poor judgment in mixing her state and personal business affairs....”

Instead, Warner said he would “reassign” Stewart and prohibit the nonprofit organizations from using state resources until the ethics investigation was complete. Additionally, the DOC will review its policies and the memorandums of under-standing with Stewart’s nonprofits, and develop a new ethics training program for DOC employees.


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