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Originally published Monday, November 5, 2012 at 8:31 PM

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Ethics fines may follow gifts of liquor to City Light trainer

A Seattle City Light employee may face penalties under city ethics rules for accepting bottles of liquor from apprentices in a lineworker training program for which he administered the test to advance.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A Seattle City Light employee may face penalties under city ethics rules for accepting bottles of liquor from apprentices in a lineworker training program for which he administered the test to advance.

Ronald Allen, an instructor for the apprentice program since 2005, received nine bottles of whiskey or other liquor from trainees who were about to retake an oral exam that he said some had failed during a previous attempt.

Wayne Barnett, director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said Allen's actions violate city ethics rules that prohibit the acceptance of gifts which, to a reasonable person, would appear to have been given with the intent to receive special consideration from a city employee.

Barnett said he felt strongly that Allen's actions were a clear violation of city ethics rules.

"We think that accepting liquor from people to whom you're about to administer a test is clearly inappropriate," Barnett said.

Barnett will present the charges under the ethics code to the commission Wednesday. The commission will decide whether to hear the matter and whether to levy a fine. It can impose fines up to $5,000 per violation.

Allen, 41, received a 20-day suspension from City Light for his actions, Barnett said.

As a lineworker, Allen earned $129,095 in 2011 including almost $33,000 in overtime pay, according to city records. He was hired as a lineworker apprentice in 2002.

Barnett said Allen's union, Local 77 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, intends to contest the allegations of ethics violations because the union's contract with the city does not specify that members are subject to fines under the ethics rules.

Another city employees union won an unfair-labor-practices judgment against the city over an ethics violation in 1995. A hearings examiner for the state Public Employees Relations Commission ruled that employees were not subject to discipline except as specified in their contract and that being subject to an ethics fine in addition to city discipline could amount to double jeopardy.

Since then, Barnett said, many city contracts have been rewritten to specify that employees can be fined by the Ethics Commission. Local 77's contract doesn't include that language.

Neither Allen nor the union returned a call Monday requesting comment.

The charging document prepared for the commission says Allen was a trainer for a six-month lineworker apprenticeship program that began in February 2010. On the first day of testing, in August, Allen told the apprentices that they were taking an oral test on safety regulations under Washington law.

The charging document says that Allen called each apprentice individually into a classroom and asked them questions regarding the state rules.

When all the apprentices had finished the test, Allen told them that some had done poorly and failed, but that they would have another chance to retake the test several days later.

The charging document notes that there is no record of the testing, what was asked or the apprentices' responses.

When Allen announced the group's failure, the investigation says, an unnamed apprentice yelled, "Would a bottle help?"

On the day the apprentices were to be retested, all nine gave him bottles of liquor.

Allen acknowledged to the ethics investigator that he received nine bottles. He re-administered the test to each apprentice and all passed, according to the charging document. It notes that "Allen as the sole tester had the authority to pass or fail each apprentice."

The Ethics Commission could hear the matter in December, Barnett said.

In other action, a former Seattle Public Utilities customer-service representative, Enjolia McClure, agreed to pay a $500 fine for adjusting her boyfriend's garbage and water bills. She resigned in September.

McClure is the ninth SPU employee to be fired or disciplined for making unauthorized adjustments to their own or relatives' city utility accounts. Utility spokesman Andy Ryan said the total loss is less than $2,000.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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