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.
“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 email@example.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.