Sammamish City Council Member Ramiro Valderrama and City Manager Lyman Howard last year wanted to negotiate a Developer Agreement with Town Center developer STCA, without the required council approval, Sammamish Comment learned.
The revelation is in an email (click to read it) dated Nov. 21, 2017, that the city manager designated “attorney client privileged.” The email was recently determined to be not privileged and released in a public records request.
The email was addressed to another city employee and cc’d to the city attorney and a second city employee. Howard’s labeling the email attorney-client privilege is intended to bar the email from public disclosure.
Then-Council Member Don Gerend, who retired at the end of last year, also wanted to pursue a Developer Agreement, the email shows.
STCA LLC, headed by Matthew Samwick, is the primary developer of the Town Center project.
Negotiating on behalf of the city requires council authorization granted in a public process. No such authorization was sought. Mayor Christie Malchow and member Tom Hornish, who were on the 2017 council with Valderrama and Gerend, were unaware of the latter’s desire to discuss a developer agreement. They were also unaware of the Howard email.
This email was sent just days after Valderrama voted with Gerend and then-council members Kathy Huckabay and Mayor Bob Keller on Nov. 21 to exempt the Town Center from the building moratorium. The exemption passed on a 4-3 vote, with Malchow, Hornish and Tom Odell opposing the exemption.
Valderrama originally voted for the moratorium, then flip-flopping to exempt the Town Center from the building pause.
Unauthorized development agreement discussions
In October 2017 City Council voted to enact an emergency moratorium on all new development in Sammamish. An emergency moratorium requires a public hearing within 60 days after its enactment.
On November 21, city council held a public hearing on the moratorium. In a late-night vote, council, on a vote of 4-3, decided to exclude the Town Center project from the moratorium. Valderrama was the swing vote. He based his vote on his concerns to the environment (his reasoning sparked a controversy over stormwater injection).
On November 27, just six days after the vote excluded Town Center for the moratorium, city manager Howard states the following in an email designated “attorney client privileged”:
“I spoke with Ramiro this evening and he and Don [Gerend] would like to discuss a Developer Agreement with STCA.” writes Howard to his assistant and to Jeff Thomas, Director of Community Development, “He suggested he and Don along with staff of Jeff and myself.”
“I suggested we add Mike [Kenyon, the city attorney] to the meeting as these are complex and have to be done right,” wrote Howard.
“I’ll ask Debbie [Beadle, his assistant, to whom the email was addressed] to set up a time to discuss amongst the 5 of us”, referring to himself, city attorney, Jeff Thomas, Gerend, and Valderrama. Notably missing from this email and the planned meeting was the rest of the council.
“We haven’t done one before [development agreement) and if not done properly, they lock the City in contractually sometimes to our detriment.”, wrote Howard in recognition of the seriousness of such discussions.
Designating a document Attorney Client Privileged keeps it from public disclosure. The designation is allowed when a client seeks legal advice from an attorney. However, since no legal advice has been requested and since city attorney was not the primary recipient, the email has just recently deemed not privileged and released to the public.
Negotiations and denials
The public and several council members were not aware of any negotiations, or proposed talks, of any Developer Agreement with STCA/Samwick. A few hints were revealed when newly elected council member Jason Ritchie boasted on Facebook in February 2018 on multiple occasions that he was “negotiating” with STCA:
- “…I do support he Town Center. That means negotiating with the developer, STCA.”
- “I do support the Town Center. As a member of the Council, I’m negotiating the best deal I can for our city.”
- “I’m not looking for a best friend. This is negotiating with a developer. Are you saying we shouldn’t negotiate because of a flawed history? “
By “flawed history,” Ritchie was referring to Samwick’s legal troubles in Oregon a few years back, as detailed in his resignation from the Oregon Bar.
At that time, no negotiations were authorized by the city council. Ritchie’s self-described “negotiations” raise questions about unauthorized talks, negotiations or a “back room” deal Valderrama and Howard discussed a few months before.
In response to an email following Ritchie’s Facebook posts, Howard denied any negotiations were underway.
“Staff is not currently negotiating with STCA, and staff has not currently been directed by the City Council to enter into negotiations of a development agreement,” Howard wrote in a March 27 email.
The City’s Communications manager Kellie Stickney also stated in a March 5 email: “The City Council has not directed the City Manager to begin negotiating a Development Agreement with STCA. Any movement in this direction would need action from the City Council in a public meeting.”
These statements stand in stark contradiction to Valderrama and Howard’s intent in November 2017 to negotiate a development agreement without authorization or full council’s knowledge.
Valderrama has become STCA’s biggest cheerleader on the council. His flip-flop on the moratorium was outlined in a Nov. 28 post in which he changed his story, in his own words, Facebook posts and emails, several times, attempting to shift his support for an STCA suggestion to inject storm water into the ground as a “misunderstanding” by then-Sammamish Water Commissioner Karen Moran. Moran is now on the council.
Valderrama, on Facebook, also claimed that Sammamish’s leading environmentalist, Wally Pereyra, supported injection. Pereyra immediately wrote a long letter to the council, Facebook and The Comment denying he supported injection and took Valderrama to task.
Valderrama since denied he ever supported injection.
But Pereyra’s reply to Valderrama was clear.
“My short phone conversation with Ramiro took place late one night when he called me to advise that the TC developer’s injection idea was gaining traction and might be approved,” Pereyra wrote. “Did I have any thoughts? I responded, ‘Make sure it is bonded.’ We never got into a discussion of the merits or demerits of injecting stormwater.
“Unfortunately, it seems Ramiro took a suggestion I made to him that any proposed solution needed to be bonded to mean I support the concept of injecting TC runoff into the ground. I do NOT support this latest TC proposal. It is risky and will have environmental impacts to normal hydrological functioning of our wetlands and streams and hence our Kokanee,” Pereyra wrote.
Valderrama’s claim to base his vote on environmental concerns seem questionable in light of information recently revealed about yet another meeting with STCA in the days following the November 21 vote.
In a December 6 email, then council member Huckabay demanded that Valderrama reported the content of discussions he had with STCA prior to the vote:
“On Wednesday morning, John Galvin reported that he spoke to Ramiro regarding item 25A:
‘I spoke with Ramiro yesterday afternoon. He was the swing vote. Ramiro told me he was working hard, meeting with STCA and wanted to make sure the decision and vote of November 21 would remain’. John Galvin
“This conversation, referencing the meeting with STCA, came before a number of us knew about the meeting, the resolution or the executive session,” Huckabay wrote.
Valderrama and Matt Samwick / STCA
On that very same day, December 6, Valderrama emailed STCA/Samwick asking for material support for a presentation that was made to the Northeast Sammamish Water District. It’s unclear who presented, but the water district asked Valderrama “if I [Valderrama] could secure any written statements, depictions, or other information we could share with him to reinforce the message our geologist stated last night” (emphasis added).
The references “we”, “our” indicate as if STCA and Valderrama are somehow being seeing as working together. In an exchange on Facebook Valderrama said the word “our” was a mistype and should be read “your,” as in “your geologist.”
Valderrama first sought to contact Samwick in January 2017, with no specific stated reason.
“I wanted to reach out to STCA. do you have the lead contacts contact information?” Valderrama asked Jeff Thomas, the city’s community development director, in a January 18, 2017, email, and then again on January 30: “Hi Jeff: Was Kelly able to get the STCA contact information? Thanks.”
This time staff provided Valderama Samwick’s contact information. However, in a PRR, no emails were found on Valderrama’s city email account to Samwick, indicating that either he has not contacted Samwick or that he contacted Samwick from a different email account or by the phone number staff supplied to Valderrama.
Indeed, there are indications that Samwick and Valderrama communicate through Valderrama’s personal gmail account. In two emails, on Nov 13, 2017, Samwick sends Valderrama two articles to his email@example.com email account. There is reason to believe Valderrama initiated contact with Samwick from his personal email account, which explains how Samwick has his personal email address.
Original materials used for this story can be found here: https://goo.gl/ksp3wq