Tag: King County Assessor

Morning Crank: “Unacceptable By Any Measure”

Image result for escalator broken temporarily stairs

1. At Sound Transit’s board meeting Thursday, agency CEO Peter Rogoff said the 40-minute waits many commuters experiencing when escalators at the University of Washington light rail station stopped working last Friday were “unacceptable by any measure.” Sound Transit wouldn’t let commuters use the stalled escalators as stairs—a common practice in other transit systems across the country—because they said the variable stair height on the escalators could result in people tripping. “This resulted in painfully long lines for our customers and rightly resulted in numerous customer complaints,” Rogoff summarized, adding that Sound Transit staff would come back to the board’s operations and administration committee with a set of “remedies” on April 5.

At the same meeting, board members also approved a set of performance objectives for Rogoff, including the development of a “Leadership Development Plan” for Rogoff in collaboration with a panel consisting of board members Nancy Backus, Paul Roberts, and Ron Lucas—the mayor of Auburn, mayor pro tem of Everett, and mayor of Steilacoom, respectively. The board mandated the plan at its last meeting, after (mildly) chiding Rogoff for his alleged behavior toward agency employees, which included looking women up and down and giving them “elevator eyes,” using racially insensitive language, shoving chairs, and yelling and swearing at employees. At that meeting, the board declined to give Rogoff a $30,000 bonus but did grant him a five-percent “cost-of-living” raise, bringing his salary to more than $328,000.

Several board members, including Seattle city council member Rob Johnson, expressed concern about a potential lack of transparency around the development of the plan, but no one raised any objections over the adequacy of the guidelines themselves, which include vague directives such as “Continue to enhance leadership skills, including the areas of active listening, self-awareness, and relationship building” and “develop specific action plans, performance expectation targets, and measurements to improve leadership abilities in these areas.” Last month, Johnson and Mayor Jenny Durkan were the only votes against the plan for Rogoff’s rehabilitation, which they both deemed inadequate given the seriousness of the allegations against him.

2. A petition to begin the process of removing Bailey Stober as chair of the King County Democrats has enough signatures to move the process to the next step: Holding a meeting of all the precinct committee officers (PCOs) in the county to vote on whether to remove Stober, who is under investigation for allegations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct. However, dozens of PCOs who have been appointed but not yet approved by Stober may be unable to vote, including nearly a dozen “pending” PCOs who have signed an open letter calling on Stober to resign.

On Monday, the group’s executive board agreed to hold a meeting to discuss the financial misconduct allegations against Stober; the petition will be presented at that meeting. On Tuesday, Stober said he planned to make an “announcement pertinent to our organization” during his report at the beginning of the meeting. Some in the group have speculated that he may attempt to present “evidence” in a separate harassment case against him that would cast his alleged victim—a former employee whom Stober fired—and her supporters in an unflattering light, and then resign.

One hundred twenty-two appointed PCOs remain in “pending” status waiting for Stober to sign off on their appointments, which is one of the duties of the King County party chair. Some have been waiting for more than a year for Stober’s approval.

3. Meanwhile, Stober has lost his legal representation in a separate case stemming from alleged campaign-finance violations in his 2015 run for Kent City Council.  The firm that was representing him, Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzen & Lavitt, filed a petition formally removing themselves from the case on March 8. The state Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has been attempting to get documents from Stober for nearly a year in a case related to two citizen actions filed by conservative activist Glen Morgan; the first accuses Stober of using campaign funds for personal use and other campaign-finance violations, and the second alleges that Stober campaigned for other candidates on public time (in his role as King County Dems chair) while on the clock as spokesman for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson. Last June, the AGO issued a press release announcing it was seeking an order forcing Stober to hand over the documents; although that request was granted, subsequent court records reveal that the AGO was (at least initially) unable to serve Stober at his home (where the lights were on and a car was in the driveway but no one answered) or his office (where the process server was told Stober was on vacation.)

Dmitri Iglitzen, a partner at the firm, declined to comment on why his firm decided to stop representing Stober, citing attorney-client privilege, but did say that the firm has “at no time billed King County Democrats (or any other entity) for legal services related to our representation of Mr. Stober” and “at no time has provided legal services to Mr. Stober on a pro bono basis.” In other words, Stober was (or was supposed to be) paying them for their services. Iglitzen declined to say whether nonpayment was an issue in his firm’s decision to cut ties with Stober.

Stober, who ran for the Kent Council three times, has already been fined $4,000 for campaign disclosure violations related to his 2011 and 2013 campaigns for the position.

4. On Wednesday, the city council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee finally approved legislation that will lift parking mandates, require more bike parking at new buildings, and require developers of large buildings to “unbundle” the cost of parking and rent by charging separately for each, on Wednesday, although one controversial provision will be back on the docket at Monday’s full council meeting.

Council member Lisa Herbold raised objections to several changes made by the legislation, including the unbundling provision (she worried that renters would choose not to rent parking and just park on the street); a new definition of “frequent transit service” that allows apartments without parking within a quarter-mile of bus routes that run, on average, every 15 minutes; and a provision removing parking mandates for affordable housing and one lowering the mandate for senior housing.

Most of Herbold’s amendments were unsuccessful, although she did manage to pass one that will impose a special parking mandate on new buildings near the Fauntleroy ferry dock. (Council member Mike O’Brien voted against that proposal, arguing that that there were ways to prevent ferry riders from parking in the neighborhood that did not involve requiring developers to build one parking space for every unit so close to a frequent bus line, the RapidRide C). When the full council takes up the legislation Monday, Herbold said she plans to reintroduce just one amendment: A proposal that would allow the city to impose “mitigation” requirements under the State Environmental Policy Act on new developments in neighborhoods where more than 85 percent of parking spaces are routinely occupied. Those measures could include site-specific parking mandates or provisions barring renters at a new development from obtaining residential parking zone permits to park on the street (currently, RPZ permits are available to all city residents.)

Both Johnson and O’Brien objected that the purpose of environmental mitigation under SEPA is to mitigate against the negative environmental impacts of projects, not build new parking lots for cars. O’Brien pointed to the well-documented phenomenon of induced demand—the principle that adding more parking spaces or highway lanes simply leads people to drive more. Herbold countered that driving around searching for parking has an environmental impact, an argument that equates the minuscule climate impact of circling the block for a minute to that of purchasing and driving a car because your neighborhood has plenty of free parking. “We should be reverse engineering” our existing urban landscape, Johnson argued, “and requiring more green space instead of more asphalt.”

The council will take up the parking reform legislation, and Herbold’s amendment, on Monday at 2pm.

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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.