- Vote in our poll on whether Sammamish residents should have the right to Initiative and Referendum. Click here to go to the post.
- Vote in our first pre-general election poll on the Favorability/Unfavorability ratings of the incumbents, Tom Vance, Ramiro Valderrama and Nancy Whitten. Click here to go to the post.
This investigative report is more than 4,400 words and is best read when printed out.
The City of Sammamish is quietly engaged in a stealth campaign against the Citizens of Sammamish (CFS), attempting to deny the group locations for meetings, persuade groups to oppose the Initiative, stifle discussions at community groups, and limit information about the Initiative in the City’s newsletter, an investigation reveals.
Long considered an irritant and a “complainers” group, which was nonetheless tolerated and largely ignored by the City, the stealth campaign to deny CFS a meeting place began this year after its chairman Harry Shedd, was successful in backing the City Council into a corner to put an Advisory Vote on the April 28 ballot for City voters to tell the City Council if the right to Initiative and Referendum should be adopted for the City.
Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay is quietly driving the effort. Huckabay has been trying to deny CFS use of the Boys & Girls Club (B&GC) from future meetings. The B&GC building is at Ingelwood Hill Road and 228th Ave. Northeast, is owned by the City, leased to B&GC. Huckabay met with the firefighters union to evict CFS from the Eastside Fire & Rescue Station #82 at 1851 228th Ave. NE, Sammamish, WA 98075. CFS typically meets at Station 82 on the first Monday of the month. It rented a room at the B&GC in February to kick off its campaign for a Yes vote for the Advisory ballot. It was shortly after this meeting that efforts began its efforts to bar CFS at B&GC and Station 82.
Council Member Tom Odell filed a complaint against Shedd and CFS with the State and the County over required filings and financial disclosures and raised the prospect of removing a planning commissioner for participating in a Girl Scout event that discussed the Initiative.
- Council members faces off against each other.
- Boys & Girls Club, Eastside Firefighters, Presbyterian Church, the Rotary Club and even the Girl Scouts caught up in the disputes.
- Silencing critics.
- Using City resources to work against the Initiative.
- Freedom Foundation becomes a target used against the Initiative.
Efforts to shut out Citizens for Sammamish
At the February 17 City Council meeting, Huckabay asked the City Attorney whether “political activities” could be banned from the city-owned building that is five years into a 10 year lease to the B&GC. The City Attorney said that as long as the activity wasn’t a single, political campaign (such as for a city council candidate), political activities were allowed. The City Attorney also said that having leased the building to B&GC, the City gave up the right of approval over groups that rented the room.
This didn’t stop the officials from attempting to bar CFS.
I reported Huckbay’s questions to the City Attorney in a February 24 post. Huckabay’s motive for the questions weren’t immediately clear, because she didn’t mention CFS by name. But subsequent investigation cleared up the ambiguity.
Shedd, at this month’s CFS meeting, repeated previous and stated new accusations that the City Staff, allegedly at the behest of unidentified Council Members, called the Boys & Girls Club to block any future CFS meetings at the Sammamish B&GC facility.
City officials declined comment.
In an email in response to my post of April 7, Huckabay claimed the director of the Sammamish Teen Center, operated by B&GC at the Ingelwood Hill location, Zach Wenman, got into “trouble with his bosses” because Shedd “didn’t tell him” the purpose of the February meeting was to kick off the Yes campaign. Huckabay said this was contrary to B&GC rules.
Huckabay made no references to the calls to Wenman’s boss, Doug Wozeniak, were made by City Staff at her request, according to Valderrama.
Wenman made this statement to Sammamish Comment in an email, refuting in part Huckabay’s claims and in part Shedd’s claims:
Every January I send the City of Sammamish an annual report on the state of the Teen Center. The City presents the report to the Council and then the Council brings concerns to the City Manager. From there the City Manager meets with the President and Vice President of Boys & Girls Clubs of King County to discuss and then I meet with my bosses to find solutions. One of the issues that was brought up was the number of rentals compared to our teen programming, not who we were renting to. The City’s concerns were that we weren’t investing enough time into our communities (sic) teens. While I was looking into our lease with the City to see if there was a specific percentage of rentals allowed vs teen programming, I ran into a statement that read along the lines that we weren’t supposed to have renters that conflicted with City policy. I postponed any future meetings that would be considered a conflict of interest and contacted the City to discuss further. They looked into it and discovered we weren’t doing anything that conflicted against the lease. Citizens of Sammamish had already met prior to all of this and the other groups we postponed were contacted and let known they were clear to rent. In no way was I ever in trouble with my bosses. Also, Harry Shedd did not originally let us know his purpose of renting and nor did we ask because he has been such an incredible supporter of our Club, Staff, and teens.
The reference to Shedd being an “incredible supporter” of the Club, staff and teens is to the financial support from Shedd that has funded lighting and sound equipment.
Shedd entered into a contract for room rental for one evening for the Yes campaign kick off and paid the standard rent, Shedd said at the April 6 CFS meeting.
Huckabay’s City-originated emails show her citing the history of the Freedom Foundation, a conservative group that has filed initiatives in cities seeking right-to-work legislation and other conservative causes at the local level, as a reason to vote against the Initiative here. Huckabay has frequently cited the Freedom Foundation in conversations, including with me.
City emails reviewed under a Public Records Request also show Huckabay, the her City email address, tried to pitch the Freedom Foundation story to the Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter.
Huckabay, in her role as Deputy Mayor, met with Jon Wiseman, president of the Eastside Firefighters union. Among the topics discussed was the Initiative, Wiseman said in an interview. Huckabay cited the Freedom Foundation and its opposition to unions and asked the union to bar CFS from using Station 82, Wiseman said. On March 27, Huckabay, using her City email address, later sent Wiseman an email “that just came to light” to Valderrama from last September from a Sammamish resident asking about unions in Sammamish. The resident’s email included a Freedom Foundation email, which was forwarded by the resident to Valderrama. Valderrama replied there are no unions among Sammamish employees. (Although Sammamish is served by Wiseman’s unionized firefighters, the labor contract is with EF&R and Sammamish contracts its fire services with EF&R.)
Wiseman said he told Huckabay the union had no control over the use of Station 82’s facilities and if she wanted to bar CFS from using the room there for its meetings, she’d have to go to EF&R with the request.
Huckabay and Council Member Bob Keller are Sammamish’s representatives on the EF&R Board of Directors. It’s not known if Huckabay has made this request at EF&R.
Huckabay also asked Wiseman during the conversation whether his union or its members had contributed to CFS’s Yes campaign. Wiseman said the union had not but he had no knowledge whether members may have. (The answer is “no.” See the section below about the PDC complaint.)
In an email from Wiseman to Huckabay, Wiseman acknowledges the Freedom Foundation’s anti-union campaigns in other cities and also the dangers to firefighter unions through the initiative process. But he also cites advantages of initiatives and writes he has no objections to the Initiative. He ends by urging Huckabay to support the Initiative.
Huckabay’s City-originated emails also show she objected to discussions of the Initiative at the Rotary Club and a Girl Scout’s public policy event held at City Hall. Huckabay advocated restricting future Girl Scout usage of City Hall as a result. (See below.)
Huckabay did not respond to an invitation to meet to discuss these subjects.
In a related development, Valderrama and another City Council Member told Sammamish Comment that Odell complained to the City administration that the Presbyterian Church next door to B&GC was regularly holding events there, paying rent. The regularity of the activities was contrary to the lease terms with B&GC, the City Council Member told me. The Council Member agreed that Odell was correct in his interpretation that the regular use of the facility by the church was contrary to terms of the lease.
Filings at the Public Disclose Commission
Huckabay’s City-originated emails also show that she was pursuing identification of the funding source and the filings with the PDC. Shedd admits he ignored her email seeking this information. This, apparently, is the basis for Huckabay’s later claims that he “refused” to file with the PDC. Her claims were made to me in an email as recently as April 8. She began raising questions internally about PDC filings within the City via her City email address as early as mid-February.
Odell emailed Huckabay and Mayor Tom Vance about his initial inquiry to the PDC (see below). Emails on his City address also show he contacted King County Elections over PDC filings. He sent the same email to PDC and Elections, asking, “I hope you will be investigating this case with all speed.”
Kathy Cummings, a Sammamish resident, in a letter to the editor in the Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter April 3 cited the Freedom Foundation and CFS’ “refusal” to file with the PDC and disclose the funding source.
Cummings, according to an Internet search, is a one-time official of the 5th Legislative District Democrats. Huckabay was active in the 5th LD when most of Sammamish fell within the District. The Southern half now falls within the 41st. Huckabay ran for State Senator for the 5th LD in 2004.
In an email to me, Huckabay wrote, “[The] City attorney opined that any political campaign, even for an advisory vote, is required to file with the PDC.”
This raises the question, who asked the City Attorney (paid by the taxpayers) to render a legal opinion for what was not an official City Council action to pursue PDC information and a complaint? Was the City Attorney improperly responding to an improper request?
Council Member Odell, who also is vehemently opposed to granting Sammamish residents the right to Initiative, filed a complaint with the PDC over the failure by Shedd as an individual and CFS to file documents and financial disclosures. Odell’s complaint to the PDC was as an individual, using his home address and home email, but his letter does refer to himself as a “sitting city councilman and former Mayor.” These documents were obtained from the PDC by Sammamish Comment in a Public Records Request.
Odell’s complaint to the PDC was also couched in questions and not accusations or inflammatory charges. Odell was well within his rights to file the complaint and was careful to do so as an individual, not as a City official, and using his personal information and not City resources.
However, Odell by email reported on the status of his complaint to Vance and Huckabay. Valderrama responded to Sammamish Comment that he was unaware of Odell’s complaint until he heard about it elsewhere. Keller, Gerend and Whitten responded that they were not aware of Odell’s complaints until they received emails from Sammamish Comment.
The facts paint a very different picture compared with the assertions by Huckabay and Cummings.
Shedd said at the April 6 CFS meeting, and the documents obtained from the PDC back him up, that he had asked the PDC in January whether it was necessary for CFS to file activities, fund raising and expenditures with the PDC as CFS prepared to obtain signatures and petition the City for the Initiative/Referendum. The PDC replied that this was unnecessary.
Then, on Feb. 3, the City Council voted to place an Advisory vote on the April 28 ballot. Unbeknownst to Shedd, this action changed the rules and advice he received in January. Once this became a ballot issue, instead of a petitioning, then CFS and/or Shedd were now advocating on a ballot issue. This meant Shedd and CFS were required to make filings and disclosures on advertisements, fliers and, with certain qualifications, signs.
Huckabay began emailing other City Council members about the PDC filing. Odell filed his complaint with the PDC, but reported back only to Vance and Huckabay, emails reveal.
Once Shedd was contacted by the PDC about Odell’s complaint and advising him that the ballot issue (as opposed to petitioning) now required filings, Shedd filed what’s called a C-6 of independent expenditures and the funding/expenditures paperwork. Through April 6, Shedd himself funded all advertisements, signs, fliers and room rental at the B&GC, at a cost slightly in excess of $4,000.
The Strange Case of the Freedom Foundation email
Reference was made above to a Freedom Foundation-related email to Council Member Valderrama that Huckabay sent to Eastside Firefighter union president Wiseman. How this email came to light–and subsequently was sent to Wiseman–is strange.
In September, Valderrama received an email from a Sammamish resident, Delvin Tingwall (described in an Internet search as a member of the Tea Party) that included a forward-email from an official of the Freedom Foundation. The FF email described activity elsewhere in Washington State and about municipal unions. Tingwall wrote Valderrama, “I was wondering about our city’s relationship with unions. I don’t believe I have ever heard anything about negotiations or even what or how many unions are involved in our city.”
Valderrama replied that the City has no unions working for it, though it has contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office and EF&R, which are unionized. Labor discussions are not done by the city, Valderrama wrote.
Last month, a Public Records Request (PRR) was received by the City from a “Zoe Reynolds” with a PO Box address in Seattle. Receiving a request from a Seattle resident (as opposed to a company or law firm) is unusual, and so it is from a PO Box. An Internet search for Zoe Reynolds turns up several “hits” on the name but none associated with a specific Seattle address, let alone the PO Box.
When called to discuss the PRR, “Reynolds” said she lives in Seattle but asked if she could call back. She did not do so. Her voice mail answers “Anna” and a professional search comes back to Stevens County, north of Spokane.
Regardless, the entire City Council was sent the PRR request by the City Administration, a move Valderrama says is unprecedented and one which he interprets as a targeted move intended to provide “dirt” for his opponents should he decide to run for reelection this year. May 11 is the first day for filing for the fall campaign.
Given the Republican-leaning and Initiative-favoring record of Sammamish voters, I’m not sure tying Valderrama to an innocuous response to the Freedom Foundation-related question would be perceived negatively in any future campaign.
The Administration responded to Valderrama’s protest that notifying the City Council to a PRR was a routine practice, to which Valderrama said it isn’t and pointed specifically to my PRR request last fall for two years of emails related to King County’s development of the Lake Trail. No such City Council notice was sent then, to which the Administration replied it was unaware of my request. Those emails were the foundation of my January 17 investigative report about the willful neglect and Council infighting over the Trail. Multiple PRRs related to the 42nd St. barricade also were not broadly sent to the Council. The Administration wrote to Valderrama saying that he was not targeted.
Setting this little tit-for-tat aside, it is undeniable that Huckabay took the Freedom Foundation-related email to Valderrama and used it in her campaign against the Initiative in an attempt to persuade Wiseman, the president of the firefighter’s union, to oppose the Initiative.
This isn’t the first time efforts have been made to silence and intimidate critics.
Odell famously called the superintendent of a Sammamish principal who spoke at a City Council meeting to complain that she had identified herself as a principal at a local school in her preface to her remarks.
In an interview with Sammamish Comment for this article, Odell–who was Mayor at the time–said the principal left the impression she was speaking in an official capacity, not an individual one, an impression Odell viewed as inappropriate. It was for this reason he called her boss, who Odell said agreed. There were letters to the editor criticizing Odell for what was widely viewed as an attempt to silence a person opposed to what the City was considering at the time (withdrawal from the EF&R partnership).
Odell also objected to a Planning Commissioner participating in the above-referenced Girl Scout public policy discussion of the Initiative, and, according to others familiar with the situation, suggested the person be removed from the commission. This was unsuccessful.
Odell, in our interview, said elected officials, hired staff and appointed commissioners, have a different standard to abide to than non-affiliated citizens. His objection to the commissioner’s appearance at the Girl Scout event was based on what he heard occurred there, not from personal observation. Odell said that he heard a one-sided presentation on the Initiative was presented to a “susceptible” group on City property, which he deemed inappropriate–hence the suggestion the commissioner should be removed from office.
Odell is the only Council Member to vote against putting the CFS-driven Advisory vote to the citizens, clearly a vote to deny citizens a voice on the topic.
Were the cookies bad?
Of all things, the Girl Scouts have become a target in the Initiative controversy.
Emails from the City reveal a major brouhaha between Huckabay and others on the Council over the Girl Scouts public policy event. Huckabay accused Valderrama of creating a one-sided, inappropriate event promoting the Initiative. However, according to emails, Bob Keller, a Huckabay ally, characterized the event as good.
“Ramiro arranged and coordinated the event with Skylar serves the girls scouts at the regional level and the invitation goes out through her regional newsletter. The first event took the council and our local girl scout leaders by surprise both in that it occurred and that it was politicized by Harry Shedd’s one sided presentation on the initiative process. So, there was a question as to whether future events would go forward,” Huckabay wrote in an April 5 email to Council Member Don Gerend and copied to the rest of the Council.
After some additional back-and-forth between Valderrama and Huckabay, Valderrama responded, “You now raise that a one sided presentation was given by Harry Shedd – that is not correct. Mr. Shedd presented both pros and cons before it was even a ballot issue approved by the Council to be voted on and his presentation slide was sent to the city before hand. This past week the Rotary speaker group decided that as a new ballot issue they wanted to hold a talk on the initiative issue on the – and while they found a pro initiative speaker – neither the Rotary nor the city could find a a con to present. Both Rotary and City reached out to the ballot designated Con writer Steve Teicher (sp) who I believe is your neighbor – and it was announced at the meeting that he declined saying he was not interested in speaking. Both sides were presented again by Mr. Shedd by default.”
Huckabay replied, “Very funny. Do you do stand-up comedy as well?”
Fighting over the City Newsletter
The City emails, obtained under a Public Records Request, also show a major disagreement over this month’s City Newsletter.
Originally there were more than two pages of information on the Klahanie Annexation vote and nothing in the draft about the Initiative. Valderrama and Whitten protested and after charges, counter charges and arguing about whether the City had fairly presented past information and what should be included in the April newsletter about the Initiative, a story was removed and a quarter-to-one-third page of information about the Initiative was included with a link to the City’s website for more information.
Sammamish officials, and the City’s newsletter, have been very active in providing information about the Klahanie annexation vote (also April 28) but have downplayed information about the Initiative. But the Klahanie annexation gets far, far more coverage in the City newsletter than does the Initiative/Referendum.
The link on the City website is here.
Voting now underway
Ballots began arriving to Sammamish voters April 10. The election is April 28, and ballots must be postmarked by then or dropped off at the ballot collection at Sammamish City Hall.
With only Members Nancy Whitten and Valderrama on record in favor of granting the right, other Members informally said at the City’s January retreat they would honor the citizen outcome on the Advisory ballot. But the week before last, only Whitten and Valderrama responded in the affirmative to an email inquiry I sent to each council member asking whether they will honor an approval vote from citizens. Odell and Don Gerend declined to state their position “for the record” in advance of the vote. Bob Keller said he is reserving his decision until the result. Mayor Vance and Deputy Mayor Huckabay did not respond to the inquiry.
- See my post from the January retreat. At this retreat, Council members told me that if voters for Yes for the initiative, the council will adopt the ordinance. If they vote No, they won’t
- See a Sammamish Review article on the topic. The paper reported, “While the April vote will be a nonbinding advisory vote and Mayor Tom Vance made no promises, he did say he believes the council will go along with whatever voters decide. He added he just couldn’t see any member of the council going against voter wishes.”
Huckabay’s next door neighbor, Steve Teichler, submitted the Opposed statement in the Voters Pamphlet explaining the pros and cons about the Initiative/Referendum. Several points Teichler cites in opposition to the Initiative are identical to arguments against the Initiative in emails from Huckabay and Gerend obtained by Sammamish Comment.
What the City, and a Council Member can and can’t do
By State law, cities–in this case, Sammamish–and its elected and appointed officials and its staff are limited in their activities in support or in opposition to votes put to citizens. During the City’s last Advisory vote–on the Community Center–city officials were clear they could not take active part in attempting to influence the vote. City officials recruited individuals to organize an “independent” committee to support the Advisory vote (something the school districts frequently do for tax and bond votes). A Yes! Sammamish Community Center group was created for the November 2012 vote. The group had liberal quotes from City Council members, and listed several endorsements from Council Members, Parks Commissioners, citizens and other elected officials.
Jurisdictions can answer questions and provide information, and under limited guidelines may go farther, as described immediately below.
There is nothing to prevent individual council members from being active in advisory ballots.
Lori Anderson of the Public Disclosure Commission wrote in an email response to Sammamish Comment’s inquiry:
It is true that neither city officials nor staff may use public resources to support or oppose a ballot measure, with two exceptions explained in the next paragraph. RCW 42.17A.555 This means that tax dollars cannot be used for campaigning. This prohibition doesn’t prevent city officials or staff from using their personal resources to campaign or to participate in campaign activities on their own time. When using their own resources or campaigning on their own time, the officials and staff are allowed to use their titles, since the city incurs no measureable expense from the use of a title.
The city council may take a position on a ballot measure when the measure impacts city residents, so long as the discussion is noted on the meeting agenda and members of the public are afforded equal opportunity to express an opposing view. RCW 42.17A.555(1) Once the council takes a position, the city may communicate that action following the normal and regular methods for communicating other council meeting news. The second exception at RCW 42.17A.555(2) allows an elected official to offer statements of support or opposition to a ballot proposition at an open press conference or in response to a specific inquiry.
The Public Disclosure Commission has developed guidelines for cities and other local governments to explain how resources may be used to inform constituents of a particular ballot measure’s effect. The guidelines hold that these communications must be objective and balanced, rather than promotional.