It’s about transparency

Editorial

It’s about transparency.

On Tuesday, Sammamish Comment published a post about Council Member Ramiro Valderrama and City Manager Lyman Howard sending an email to staff, with a CC to the city attorney, to talk about a Developers Agreement with STCA, the principal developer of the Town Center.

City Manager Lyman Howard labeled the email Attorney Client Privilege, even though it was addressed to his assistant and only copied to the city attorney and even though it did not ask for legal advice.

Labeling the email Attorney Client Privilege had but one purpose: to keep the email from being produced in a Public Records Request.

The City Council, then in power in November 2017, was not copied on the email.

After The Comment revealed this email and drew the obvious conclusions, Valderrama, typically, tried to cover his tracks.

Valderrama’s response

Ramiro Valderrama

“This article is not accurate and a misrepresentation of the meeting. I learned about a Developers Agreement with the rest of the Council. Neither [Don] Gerend nor I nor any Council member has the ability to negotiate any agreement with developers,” wrote on The Comment’s blog and on Facebook. “Nor have I discussed with any developer a Developers Agreement. What you describe here is a meeting to learn more about the topic – which this Council is still learning about. There was NOT then nor now – any ‘intent in November 2017 to negotiate a development agreement without authorization or full council’s knowledge.’”

If true, if this was an innocent meeting request, this begs the question: why did Howard label this Attorney Client Privilege (to his assistant and without asking for legal advice), if not to keep this from the public? Why was the rest of the Council not copied on the email? Why was not a Council meeting scheduled for an information session instead of a request for a meeting of two council members, staff and the city attorney?

Most notably, there is not a single email or document,  other than the one we uncovered, that discusses this purported meeting.

Current council members Tom Hornish and Christie Malchow, who were also on the 2017 council, were in the dark. So was council member Tom Odell.

“I was unaware of this e-mail and of any firm intent on the part of Don, Ramiro, and Lyman to push forward with a Developer Agreement.” Odell wrote The Comment is response to an inquiry. “They DID NOT have authorization from Council to do so and If true, I find this to be highly disappointing, especially on Lyman’s part.  He knows better. [Emphasis in original.] I suspect this could have been an attempt to come up with some sort of “finished product” that could potentially be rammed through the old Council during its final hours with minimal study and discussion.”

Doubts about Valderrama’s statements

Valderrama claims he hadn’t, at that time, discussed a Developers Agreement with any developer. Whether that’s true may be suspect. Valderrama’s long history of exaggerating, obfuscation, distortion, spinning and, dare we say it, outright fabrication beginning in his first term and accelerating in the current, second term (see here, here, here, here and here), casts doubt on everything he says.

Emails obtained by Sammamish Comment’s Miki Mullor incontrovertibly prove Valderrama was in contact with STCA two weeks before the Howard email. Records produced by the city in response to a Public Records Request revealed Valderrama was in contact with STCA through his personal email account, rather than his city account.

“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 ramiro******@gmail.com email account,” The Comment wrote in its post Tuesday. “There is reason to believe Valderrama initiated contact with Samwick from his personal email account, which explains how Samwick has his personal email address.”

A week later, Valderrama flip-flopped on whether to include the STCA-dominated Town Center in the building moratorium, voting to exclude the Town Center. On Facebook, Valderrama cited support from environmentalists and water commissioners for stormwater injection that he did not have as one of the reasons to reverse his vote. He later denied he ever supported injection, though his own words and information from those water commissioners and the environmentalist quoted his support.

Other emails produced by the city also show Valderrama last year was in contact with STCA. Former council member Odell, writing to The Comment, said:

“We – Kathy [Huckabay], Tom [Hornish], Christie [Malchow], and myself – became aware that Ramiro was apparently having some sort of back channel discussions with STCA but he would not admit to this activity when questioned by Kathy and Christie.”

It’s about transparency

Policy decisions that are being made now will have long lasting impact on the residents of Sammamish. It will take years until the impact of these decisions will be apparent to the residents. That’s the inherent nature of land use and permitting decisions. It takes a long time until construction of development occurs.  Those policies, like concurrency, are also complex, technical and hard to understand. Knowing who is pushing what policy and why  is very important to recognize risks and motives and inform the public on the impact of such policy on the future of the city.

This is why the Washington legislation made the open government a key principle.

We do not dispute any council member’s right, nor that of the city manager, to support the Town Center or to explore a Developer’s Agreement. However, back-channel communication pursuing a policy, resulting in flip-flops as with Valderrama and the in-out-in building moratorium for the Town Center is another matter.

So is labeling an email Attorney Client Privilege with the transparent attempt to mask transparency.

The editor and deputy editor have differing views of how the Town Center should proceed, whether it should be included in the moratorium and whether it should be as planned or down-sized.

What we agree on—strongly agree on—is transparency vs subterfuge and secrecy.

In this, the Sammamish city administration and Valderrama fail miserably.

 

10 thoughts on “It’s about transparency”

  1. Good follow-up on this piece, thank you. Now I’m curious how the rest of the Council will act. There isn’t anything about this anyone should be defending.

  2. Sammamish is grappling with real challenges as to how we can grow and still maintain the quality of life. I would think that you would want to focus on these very real issues instead of continuing to make personal attacks on me. Perhaps you think that by discrediting my service, you can change the outcome of decisions made by the Council. But all resolutions to support the Town Center have been unanimous with this Council and the recent votes taken (to approve concurrency was a 5-2 vote in favor) show that I am only one member of the Council and there are others who will vote for or against based on their own beliefs as to what is best for the city.
    As to this specific article, it is unfortunate that you continue to misrepresent information. This article, like your previous article, is simply not accurate. The basis now of wrongdoing is again – that NO such evidence can be found?? The simple reason, again is again, is that there was none. In response to a past articles by the Comment you stated that you had emails that confirmed that I was pro-developer and for water injection, when I called you, you admitted that you did not have a single email or document to support this statement about me.

    No you are trying to create an issue over Developers Agreements where is no issue. I learned about a Developers Agreement together with the rest of the Council. Neither Don Gerend, nor I, nor any Council member has the ability to negotiate any agreement with developers. Nor have I discussed with any developer a Developers Agreement. What was described here is a meeting to learn more about the topic – which this Council is still learning about. There again was NOT then, nor now – any “intent in November 2017 to negotiate a development agreement without authorization or full council’s knowledge.”

    There were also no “back channel meetings” as credited to Odell. All Council members were invited to meet with STCA and most of the meetings in 2017 were accompanied by Hornish and/or Malchow. The evidence again – that no evidence of any negotiation or back channel existed?? I wonder why did no one just call and ask Don Gerend his opinion on these non issues?

    Again you fail to mention in your article that on the public Council meeting described – discussion of the moratorium in 2017– there was a desire stated by the majority including Council Member Hornish and most -if not all of the Council were interested to see if a Council Resolution could cite a Development Agreement that could address concerns on the Town Center. This Council as a whole also naturally is interested to learn more about Developers agreements and what may or may not be included in them. But none of the Council members past or present are “negotiating” anything.

    On the two emails cited to STCA were two reports I requested on Urban Centers and Urban Forestry that I was interested in looking at as a reference for work I was doing on my own then on a concept for Urban Forestry and the Character of the City. The City later became interested in my work and I was asked to present it to the Council as a whole and the public. Ideas and contacts with UW were incorporated in the Thriving Urban Forestry Management Plan the City that is now underway with Public Input and has received State grants and seen as a potential model for the State.

    Now that even the Sammamish Comment has come around and agreed to approve Concurrency and lift the moratorium (https://sammamishcomment.wordpress.com/2018/06/06/its-time-to-approve-concurrency-plan-lift-moratorium/) joining the Planning Commission public Comments, Council repeated votes and the over whelming citizen public comments time real challenges as to how we can grow and still maintain our quality of life.

    1. “you admitted that you did not have a single email or document to support this statement about me.”

      I admitted no such thing.

      You’re in full obfuscation mode. This is about transparency. You haven’t been transparent with the 2017 Council, you are communicating through your personal email accounts to avoid city public disclosure laws, your own Facebook words and posts supported injection, Wally Pereyra, Karen Moran and Mary Shustov quoted you supporting injection and it’s clear you are cheerleading STCA.

      You were untruthful in quoting Troy Romero as you did, you were untruthful in citing support of “water commissioners” and Wally about injection. The list goes on and on.

      You’ve lost the support of Hornish, Malchow, Moran and Ross, many on Facebook and many others. The common denominator is you and your actions. You should think about that.

      This editorial specifically acknowledged the right of any council member (and city manager) to support STCA and the Town Center. This is not the issue, despite your attempt to make it so with more obfuscation.

      This is about being transparent and truthful. You are neither.

      Hamilton

    2. Valderrama says: “What was described here is a meeting to learn more about the topic”

      I suppose we will never know what was discussed in that meeting because it was kept secret under the guise of “attorney client privilege” while the majority of the council has been excluded from it.

      Ramiro: What exactly were you learning in that meeting ? why wasn’t that appropriate for a study session? why wasn’t it appropriate to share the learnings with the rest of the council?

      care to share any evidence to support your version of the story ? notes ? follow up emails? maybe convince one of the other participants to share evidence?

    3. I would like to remind our citizens that we have built a positive pleasant place to live since we have become Sammamish. I am disappointed to see some in recent months taking the negative attitude and turn. Instead of blaming, let’s remember to work together for a more positive Community that we have had. Having worked with staff and our City Manager for the last 10 years, I find Howard to have the utmost integrity, financial sense and care for the future of our City. We will miss the experience and integrity of Deputy City Manager, Jessi Bon. Our staff works very hard and needs some recognition for their honesty and hard work. How sad that some need to find fault with others to make themselves look better. Please, let’s stop the paranoia and go back to working together for a great Sammamish. I am looking to our City Council Leaders to make this happen.

  3. I am thinking Scott was ahead of the curve when he moved a few years ago.

    It seems like half or more of the city is just generally unhappy or angry about life in general. The “Facebook mob” that jumps on to every single little issue has infected a significant portion of the population. City government and the council is dysfunctional at best and corrupt at worst. The cost of admission to this city seems to be at least $800k, if not $1MM, based on what houses are now going for.

    We’re now in a situation where the city is made up of high income young families who are way overleaveraged in their homes and have to work like crazy to afford them, empty nesters who want to get out of dodge and cash in, and lifers who will stay until they die or their health forces a move. No wonder there’s no sense of community and such animus around here.

    For my part, I’m seriously considering whether or not this is the place I want to be, or even if this region is where I want to be. Much has changed over the years, some for the good, but much of it in the wrong direction.

  4. Scott, I strongly agree with your statement near the end of this your editorial … “What we agree on— strongly agree on — is transparency vs subterfuge and secrecy”. Being transparent about positions and intentions, is vital and fundamental. Being crystal-clear on reasoning for stances on key issues is of the utmost importantance. So is open, candid discussion of the merits pertaining to different points of view on tough land-use issues; their pro’s & con’s; long term consequences; and fully informed public opinions from the community.

  5. Scott, I fear you do appear to be conducting a vendetta against Council member Valderrama. Other council members, over the years, and this includes Malchow, Hornish and Odell, invite criticism similar to what you direct at Valderrama. These you said I said ping pong matches get us no where. I believe citizens benefit more when you apply your knowledge and energy to substantive issues more than political dynamics.
    All the city council members, as have you, have enthusiastically expressed support for raising the moratorium and seeing the town center move forward. However, some council members seem to be searching for an excuse to extend it. The concurrency issue has been resolved. Most recently, Malchow, Hornish and Moran have adopted an anti- TIP, tactic in an attempt to stall progress and require the extension of the moratorium. Despite their voiced support for the town center and recognition that it contributes many positives and is critical to the implementation of the Comprehensive plan elements: transportation, capital facilities, housing, financial, etc., I predict that Malchow, Hornish and Moran are going to vote to continue the moratorium. Some excuse will be voiced. What this excuse is matters little to them and what harm it does the city and citizens, is equally irrelevant to them.
    Again, I call all to focus on substantive issues. For example, Malchow, Hornish and Moran sought a TIP (transportation improvement project) list that was balanced: cost of project matched by available and committed funds. What this meant in reality was that the city would not be eligible for grants for projects. What would be the need to provide grants if the city had the money to do these projects. This seemed to matter little to these three council members. The city is currently working on a housing plan. The city’s financial plan needs attention. Indeed, we see that services, when offered locally, attract huge numbers of our citizens. A recent YMCA report demonstrated this. Over the years our youth have begged for more local services. Seniors want to age in place and are seeking alternatives to the big, three and four, bedroom homes. Sammamish will need more public transportation. The only way there will be public transport linking Sammamish with light rail in Redmond and Issaquah is by having a Town Center.
    Let me end with my often stated motto: “lets be visionary not reactionary.”
    This July 4th citizens will be gathering at the City’s commons. Look around, it is a beautiful park but it lies in the midst of chaos. If the moratorium continues, next year on the 4th of July, little will have changed. Those council members who will vote to extend the moratorium should stand in the midst of the junked cars and the empty fields, have their pictures taken, and submit this to the Sammamish Commons for display with the heading, this is Sammamish’s town center, this is the heart of our city, this is the future we offer our citizens.

    1. I have no vendetta against Ramiro, John.

      I was a strong supporter and defender of Ramiro in his 2015 reelection campaign in which he was a citizen ombudsman, critic of the administration and squeaky wheel on the council. I called out those council members who obfuscated about the Lake Trail and simply made up “facts” on other stuff.

      In the current circumstances, I supported exempting the Town Center from the moratorium and proceeding with the plan that was approved. I don’t agree that concurrency has been fixed but I do think it’s time to move on.

      Also in the current circumstances, I believe that since I called out council members who obfuscated and bent facts on a regular basis, it is only proper to do the same to Ramiro now. He was one of the biggest critics of the council members in 2014-15 whom did the same. He hardly deserves a free pass now–especially since he is guilty of the same things he criticized his peers for in 2014-15.

      As you were so fond of saying, John, “the truth will set you free.”

      People who don’t speak the truth usually don’t like being called on the carpet.

  6. If there is nothing to be hidden in these e-mails either marked attorney-client privileged or exchange through private account, could they be brought to the record to resolve any suspicion of wrongdoing?
    Sammamish would benefit from focusing on the other issues brought up. At the same time transparency in how these decisions are made, with significant private investor/builder interest, should be transparent. It shouldn’t be one or the other.

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