Tag: Erin Jones

An Outside Attorney, a Conflicted Investigator, and a New Complaint: Developments in the Case Against King County Democrats Leader

The 36th District Democrats’ executive board approved a resolution tonight that will, if adopted by the full body, withhold dues from the King County Democrats until the county party chairman, Bailey Stober, resigns or is removed from his position. The 43rd District Democrats are considering a similar resolution, and more districts could follow. Meanwhile,  King County, Stober’s employer, has appointed an outside investigator to gather information on Stober as part of the county’s own investigation into Stober’s conduct. And Erin Jones, one of Stober’s picks to serve on the five-member panel that will conduct a second investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed an employee and misused party funds, had to decline the appointment due to a conflict of interest relating to Jones’ work for the same county office that employs Stober and is currently investigating him.

Stober, as I’ve reported, was the subject of an investigation last month that concluded he had sexually harassed and bullied the group’s lone employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, before firing her on February 2, ostensibly because she threw a cup of ice on a car. (That incident was caught on camera and the video was posted anonymously on Youtube; according to staff at the hotel where the camera was located, Stober was the only person who requested the video.) After a heated debate over whether the initial investigation, conducted by the three vice chairs of the organization, was adequate, the group’s executive board held a lengthy closed-door executive session last week. Afterward, they voted to appoint a five-member panel to redo the investigation, with two members appointed by Stober himself, one member appointed jointly by Stober and the Democrats’ two remaining vice chairs (one, Cat Williams, stepped down shortly after the three released the results of their initial investigation), and two members appointed by the vice chairs. The job of the panel has been expanded beyond the original sexual harassment and financial misconduct allegations, and now includes an investigation into the original investigation, as well as a separate investigation to find out who “leaked” information about the executive board meeting, the original complaint, and other internal conversations and documents to the press.

Since that meeting, one of the two remaining vice chairs, Michael Maddux, has resigned, leaving the last vice chair standing, Orchideh Raisdanai, scrambling to come up with two people who will serve on the panel alongside Stober’s hand-picked investigators. So far, several have reportedly been asked, but declined, to serve, saying they don’t want to give the imprimatur of credibility to the proceedings. Stober told the group on Tuesday that he had chosen his two investigators: Erin Jones, a former candidate whom Stober supported for state schools superintendent, and Jill Geary, an attorney who was elected to the Seattle school board in 2015. However, by yesterday afternoon, Jones had withdrawn her name from consideration after a call from the King County Assessor’s office, where Stober works, suggesting Jones had a conflict of interest because she is the contract racial and social justice trainer for the assessor’s office. (In 2018, her contract is for $18,750). When Jones first received her contract with the assessor’s office, in February 2017, Stober posted a selfie with Jones to his Facebook page. He also hosted a fundraiser for Jones and wrote an op/ed for the Kent Reporter urging readers to support her.

Stober was a consultant on Geary’s campaign, which paid him nearly $20,000 for his services between May and October 2015.

Stober has refused to step down. He has been placed on leave from his job as a communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson until the allegations are resolved, but is still being paid his full county salary, which, as of 2016, was $87,821 a year. The county has launched an investigation into Stober’s conduct as head of the county Democrats, and has retained attorney Patty Eakes, of the firm Calfo, Eakes & Ostrovsky, to gather information from witnesses. Eakes is probably best known for prosecuting serial killer Gary Ridgway in the Green River Killer case. Chief deputy assessor Al Dams said this afternoon that the choice of Eakes—a high-profile attorney in private practice who counts employment disputes as one of her specialities—is an indication that “we take these allegations very seriously” and are doing “a comprehensive and thorough fact-finding mission to determine whether the charges have “any bearing on our office.” [Editor’s note: Dams requested that I clarify his quote in response to apparent confusion about whether the King County Assessor’s office was duplicating the King County Democrats’ investigation, which they are not.] He did not know how much the county assessor’s office was paying Eakes, but noted that similar investigations have cost between $7,000 and $10,000.

Meanwhile, the King County Democrats remains essentially insolvent, with ongoing financial needs that include an office in Auburn that costs $1,800 a month (the same office at which Stober told me he was sitting comfortable, “heat blasting,” late last month). Nancy Podschwit, the group’s treasurer, told me that the group’s budget only allocated $800 a month for office rent, but Stober unilaterally decided the higher rent was okay, since there was enough money coming in at the time and it could be borrowed from other budget items. Since the King County Democrats are a nonprofit, though, they’re supposed to follow their approved budget closely and keep track of where, precisely, the money is going. So, for example, spending $14,000 more than what his board approved on campaign contributions last year, as Stober apparently did, isn’t just a matter of shuffling budget line items; it’s using money that was allocated for one thing the nonprofit does (say, pay for ongoing office expenses) for a completely different thing (contributions to influence the outcome of a political campaign), and that can have significant tax implications.

In addition to ongoing costs (the $1,800 rent; Comcast bills totaling more than $500 a month), the King County Democrats are about to find out how much they must pay the state for failing to disclose tens of thousands of campaign expenditures and contributions in a timely fashion in 2016. And the same conservative activist who initiated that complaint, Glen Morgan, has filed a new complaint against the group, charging that Stober illegally used campaign funds for personal use by traveling around the state on the King County Democrats’ dime. Stober spent thousands of dollars on travel, including mileage, entertainment, and hotels, but said almost all his out-of-county travel was to support struggling Democratic groups across the state; however, Stober’s desire to run for state party chair against incumbent Tina Podlodowski has long been an open secret, and Stober confirmed that he was considering it before the allegations against him blew up last week. Morgan says Stober contacted him directly to argue that his complaint was baseless. “Bailey contacted me and indicated that he felt my complaint was without merit because the information presented by those attempting to remove him was inaccurate,” Morgan told me.