By Pat Jenkins
Bob Walter is moving from a seat in the audience at Eatonville Town Council meetings to one on the council.
Walter, who has regularly attended meetings to report on town business for eatonvillenews.net, has begun a four-year term as a council member. He was elected in November with 54 percent of the votes cast in his race with Ray Harper, who ran for the council instead of re-election as mayor. Walter is taking the council seat previously held by Bob Schaub, who also didn’t seek re-election last fall.
Walter has been active in civic affairs, including the local historical society. He also works for the town on a contract basis, providing animal care and licensing-related services. In a question-and-answer session with The Dispatch, he said he plans to keep that job because it isn’t creating a conflict of interest.
He also said he sees no conflict in remaining involved with eatonvillenews.net while it continues to report on the town government of which he’s now an elected part.
You’re now part of the council that you’ve been covering. How has your previous role helped you in your new one?
WALTER: Covering the town council meetings the past few years for eatonvillenews.net (ENN) has given me the opportunity to become familiar with the council’s duties, responsibilities, limits, challenges and ethical considerations, just as it would for anyone who regularly attends these public meetings. By the time I’ve written the council report, after listening to the audio I’ve recorded, I have reviewed the process three or four times. So I believe that role has prepared me to be thorough and objective in considering the issues that will come up.
You won’t be covering the meetings now. Will you be disassociating yourself from eatonvillenews.net in any other way to avoid any conflicts of interest?
WALTER: No, I’ll still be covering community events for ENN, like I have done for 11 years. In fact, there is a precedent for this. Floyd Larkin, an owner-publisher of The Dispatch for over 20 years, was mayor of Eatonville from 1952 to ’56. His wife covered the council during those years.
Since the ENN news site doesn’t generate any income from its community service, there are no financial interests in question. And just as with any elected council member, if, through ENN or otherwise, I had some connection with someone who was party in quasi-judicial or other legal matters the council was conducting, I would disclose the connection and recuse myself from the vote if necessary.
Do you plan to continue your contract role with the town for animal licensing services?
WALTER: The contract I have with the town pertains to care and transport of impounded stray pets, and pet license canvassing. (Then-mayor) Harper related during a recent council study session that the town attorney found that my compensation for those services – around $3,000 for 2013 – is well below the $18,000 threshold that would create a conflict of interest. I receive no benefits as a contractor for the town, and I secure my own liability insurance.
If the council voted to end, renew or amend the contract, I would again disclose my interest in the contract and recuse myself from that vote.
At this point, I do plan to continue providing this service. I think it’s worked out very well. I’ve helped get more pets licensed, which also brings in needed revenue, and I’ve helped re-home more impounded pets at little cost to the town.