Violation gets Tacoma city worker 3-day suspension

A veteran Tacoma employee is suspended for three days this week for taking part in another group's meetings while on the clock and at times using a government vehicle to get there.

His actions violated the city’s ethics code, an investigation found.

The punishment for Percy Jones centers on his involvement with the Regional Small Business Development Program, which was at the heart of a recent Seattle School District scandal that resulted in the firing of the superintendent and chief financial officer.

Jones, the coordinator of Tacoma’s Historically Underutilized Business Program, was not implicated in any state audit findings stemming from the Seattle schools financial scandal. But the headline-making affair spotlighted Jones’ participation in the Regional Small Business Development Program and prompted the city ethics investigation.

That program was aimed at training minority contractors to have a better shot at public contracts. But some of the training wasn’t delivered, and other services had questionable value to the district, which was out $1.8 million, state auditors found.

Jones didn’t attempt to gain personally from his involvement, didn’t use his position as a city employee to benefit the small-business program and didn’t directly spend any city money on the enterprise, according to a seven-page report by investigator Jim Webber.

But Jones did attend meetings of the group on city time and used a city vehicle to get there, Webber concluded. Those actions, plus Jones’ failure to tell city officials about his involvement with the program, violate the city’s ethics code, city Finance Director Bob Biles wrote in a letter to Jones on Friday.

The letter formally notified Jones that his punishment is three days without pay, to be served Monday through Wednesday.

“This suspension is disciplinary action in lieu of termination,” Biles wrote.

Jones, a 20-year city employee, was paid $74,630 in 2010, city records show.

He could not be reached for comment Saturday, but he told The News Tribune in March that his actions were meant only to help minority- and female-owned businesses get the training they need to win government contracts. He didn’t see any conflicts of interest, he added.

It’s not the first time Jones has been investigated on suspicion of ethics-code violations. He was reprimanded in 2004 following complaints that he’d backed an appeal by a company for a multimillion-dollar road contract, even though he’d discussed a business relationship with an associate of that company.

Jones didn’t benefit financially, but his actions violated the code by having an appearance of “conflict of interest or impropriety,” city officials said at the time.

During the same period, an audit found the program Jones ran for the city was rife with bookkeeping errors and missing records.

In the recent case, some of Jones’ work with and for the small-business program was in line with his duties as a city employee and some of it was not, the investigator concluded.

“Mr. Jones was motivated by his desire to provide services for the City of Tacoma’s HUB ‘clients,’” Webber wrote. Later in the report, he added, “Mr. Jones did not acquire or attempt to acquire a personal benefit.”