Town Center developer wines and dines local politicians at closed City Plaza

By Miki Mullor

The City Plaza in front of the Sammamish City Hall was closed off on Sunday, Sep 15, for a private event hosted by Sammamish Chamber of Commerce and  sponsored by STCA, the Town Center apartments developer (also known as Innovation Realty).  

Closing a public plaza for a private event is unusual. In the past, events in the plaza have been open to anyone (such as the Farmer’s Market) or paid-entry events, such as when wine tasting is part of the action.

Sammamish Comment’s photographer was barred from entry by a uniformed security guard.

Local politicians, Chamber of Commerce officials and real estate developers gathered for a private exclusive event featuring dinner catered by famous Seattle chef Tom Douglas.  

STCA event on City Plaza in front of City Hall

“The Sammamish Chamber of Commerce invites you and a guest to experience Taste of the Town – an engaging evening of fine dining under the stars and exciting announcements about the future of the Town Center,” reads the invitation that was sent privately and was deemed “non-transferable.”  Sharon Gavin, Communication Manager for the City of Sammamish who attended said no announcements about the Town Center were made. 

Initially named “Dinner under the Stars,” the event was titled “Taste of the Town” and featured King County Executive Dow Constantine.  STCA owner, Matt Samwick, an Oregon resident, donated $750 to Constantine’s 2021 campaign on May 15.

STCA owner, Matt Samwick, speaking to parking valet crew. Photo by Sammamish Comment

The Sammamish Comment confirmed attendance by current council members Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart.  Also in attendance were city council candidates Karen McKnight and Karen Howe. McKnight is the President of the Chamber.  

Former Mayor Don Gerend, who is suing the city to undo its new concurrency rules, was also in attendance along with former council member Kathy Huckabay and former mayor Bob Keller.

All council members were invited but the majority of them did not attend.  Candidates Kent Treen and Ken Gamblin were not invited. Also invited was City Manager, Rick Rudometkin, who chose not to attend. 

Former Sammamish Mayor Don Gerend, in the small group on the left next to the man in the blue shirt, attended. Sammamish Comment photo.

This is the first known time the city has allowed a private event to take place on City Plaza– and free of charge. Gavin confirmed the city did not charge for use of the Plaza. Emails obtained from a public records request show that initially, the event was planned to take place in Council Chambers at City Hall but by a request of the sponsor was moved outside. 

The Comment confirmed that during the time of the party dinner, Mayor Christie Malchow, Deputy Mayor Karen Moran, Council Members Chris Ross and candidates Treen and Gamblin all attended a campaign fundraising event at a Sammamish resident’s home.

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22 thoughts on “Town Center developer wines and dines local politicians at closed City Plaza

  1. How far we’ve come from the good ol’ days when corruption and favoritism were practiced behind closed doors. Now, all pretense of shame has been shed. Like Martin Luther said, “Sin boldly.” (As evidenced by the photos, however, the nature of the servant class hasn’t changed.)

  2. Good to see at the end you noted that the ‘Just Say No’ voting block of Malchow, Moran and Ross, were joined by their hopeful new members Treen and Gamblin to be ‘wined and dined’ at a ‘closed’ “campaign fundraising event at a Sammaish resident’s home”

    • A fund raising event at a private residence is a far different thing than using taxpayer-funded public property for a closed event. If you don’t see the difference, Gary, then there is no use trying to explain it to you.

  3. Can someone explain why the city is even doing business with an attorney who swindled his clients and relatives and was disbarred for doing so? Why weren’t all candidates invited… why would candidates even attend this event for private use in a public space? It is true that in previous times this would be shameful, now it seems it doesn’t bother them at all. At least I know who I’m not voting for….

    • Mary, The original article by Miki states that all current council members were invited, some chose not to go and instead attend a campaign fundraising event together at a home in Sammamish

  4. I am curious…

    – Who in the city approved this event? Was it someone in Parks, community development, or elsewhere? Do you have any relevant public records requests that can be shared?
    – Are private citizens or other organizations allowed to rent the commons space for their own, closed door event? If so, what is the price to do so, and why was this group granted public space for free? If this isn’t allowed, why was favoritism showed to this particular group?

    To me, the story here is the lack of institutional control, policies, and procedures. There should be clear guidelines on whether this space is allowed to be rented by private groups, and if so, what requirements must be met. Did the caterers and valets have insurance that met city minimums? Was a banquet permit approved by the Liquor Control Board for the consumption of alcohol? Was any of this validated by the city? Were any costs incurred by the city from this event – who paid for cleanup for instance? Was any overtime incurred by the Sammamish Police Department? Etc etc.

    This is exactly what’s wrong with the whole concurrency thing. The problem is the lack of standards, and any lack of consistency in applying what few standards they have. The city still doesn’t have clear standards 20 years after incorporation… and that’s on Ben Yazici, Lyman Howard, and the department directors that have served over the years. The policy is in place, but the implementation of the policy is next to non-existent.

      • Correct me if I am wrong but I believe the affair, Taste of the Town, was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber runs the Farmers’ Market (located in the Plaza, and works with the city to plan and carry out other activities. Sammamish Nights. was this not an event organized by the Chamber of Commerce?
        City Council members regularly participated in events hosted by the Chamber. Cities regularly seek to facilitate development of their business community. The Chamber has repeatedly informed the City Council that the chamber constantly receives inquiries from a variety of large and small business as to the availability of commercial space in the city. A majority of citizens have expressed a desire for more local services. The Fourth of July celebrations entail cooperation of the city with businesses. How many cities enter into “Planned Development” contracts with private developers? The City works with a non-city agency, the Sheriff’s Department, renting office space, and how about Fire and Rescue services, not city owned. Does the city not regularly contract out projects to private businesses? Who contracts with the city to build our parks, our roads, our public works? The city works with schools to develop fields and those fields are available to a wide range of private groups. I believe the Chamber of Commerce invited all of the City Council members. Four elected not to attend. I am sure that our City Mayor, if she attended, would have been invited to say a few words recognizing all the Chamber has done for the City. .

      • small correction: the Farmers Market and Sammamish nights are city events. Deb Sogge is a contractor organizing it on behalf of the city

  5. Why on God’s green earth does Sammamish need a “Chamber of Commerce”? This is a neighborhood not a city. Do the businesses exist in this community to serve us or do we exist to serve them? They’d better get their priority straight and stop campaigning against us or we can easily boycott them and shop somewhere else.

    Developers are now flushed with cash thanks to Microsoft, who thoughtless and callously doled out $500M to all developers to build “affordable housing” in this area. No doubt much of this money is now used by developers to buy off city officials or sue us if we don’t kowtow to their demands. Why couldn’t Microsoft have used that money to help build infrastructure instead? Instead of becoming part of the solution, they have become part of the problem. Microsoft is now an enemy of the people.

    • Well, you are now going after many of my neighbors and many other citizens of Sammamish who both have neighbors and friends who work at Microsoft or are employees or retirees from there as well. “Enemy of the people”, Really? I see why you signed on as “Long Time Resident’ and not your actual name

      • As I said Microsoft could’ve been more thoughtful in how they choose to help manage growth in this area. They’re a world class company that hires lots of smart people, which makes their so-called solution all the more disappointing.

      • This “long-time resident” is with you, Gary. We are a city, the incorporation of which I knocked on doors to achieve, exactly for the reason that we believed in the need for local control of our policies, to serve the needs of our community. Many of our community members are Microsoft employees, and the city is the better for it, in my view. My “long-time resident” creds come from moving here in 1993; you do the arithmetic.

  6. Perceptions often speak louder than the truth. This (closed)event opens several questions. What ever happened to open government? Sadly this is now the norm at all levels of government. I’m glad I’m old and won’t see the demise of the once great USA.

    • And, in that vein, consider the benefit we gain from this story: we know who’s on the side of the community, and who’s on the side of the developers, hence who we should and should not work to elect to the City Council, no?

  7. Pingback: Former Mayor Don Gerend forms a PAC | Sammamish Comment

  8. Pingback: Seattle-based Sammamish Town Center developer pours money into Sammamish elections | Sammamish Comment

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