City Staff Secretly Meets With King County On Growth

By Miki Mullor
Editor

Sammamish staff took deliberate steps to keep a meeting with county officials secret in order to avoid public records requests, Sammamish Comment discovered.

The meeting involved discussion to set growth targets for Sammamish. 

Staff-to-staff meetings aren’t typically public. They aren’t announced on government websites, meeting notices aren’t issued and the public isn’t invited to attend. But it’s highly unusual that a government takes steps to keep the meeting secret from public records.

Sammamish did just that over a meeting last month. Calendar entries for Sammamish staffers didn’t list the purpose of the meeting. A voice mail specifically detailed the motive to avoid public records requests.

Ironically, The Comment obtained the entries and voice mail under a public records request and was nevertheless able to piece together the purpose of the meeting and the motive for hiding it.

Growth Targets

The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires counties to plan for population growth within their Urban Growth Area (UGA).  Sammamish is located in King County’s UGA.  

Counties allocate the growth assigned to them by the state to each city within their jurisdiction through “Growth Targets”.  Each city then must plan enough development capacity to accommodate the growth target assigned to it.

As we reported, in 2009 the City of Sammamish advocated for the high range of the growth target – even though in public officials claimed the exact opposite:

In 2020, King County will be reviewing and setting new growth targets for all its cities.

Secret meeting – off the books 

Indeed, Sammamish staff leadership met the King County officials in charge of growth planning – but the meeting was intentionally kept secret and “off the books,” away from the public eye. 

The meeting, scheduled for January 14, at 12:30 in Seattle, included:

From Sammamish: 

Chip Corder

From King County: 

  • Paul Inghram, Director of Growth Management, PSRC
  • Karen Wolf, Senior Policy Analyst, Performance, Strategy and Budget, GMPC, King County
  • Kathryn Johnson (optional), – the Comment could not confirm Johnson’s title

PSRC, that stands for Puget Sound Regional Council, develops policies and coordinates decisions about regional growth, transportation and economic development planning within King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties.

GMPC, that stands for Growth Management Planning Council, is a formal body, currently consisting of elected officials from King County, Seattle, Bellevue, other cities and towns in King County. Through the GMPC, jurisdictions within King County work together to plan for economic and population growth in King County.

Damning voicemail 

David Pyle

The Comment accidentally discovered the meeting while researching public records for a different story and discovered the following voicemail Pyle left on Corder’s city mobile phone:

“Hey, Chip, this is David Pyle. Just got word from Debbie [Debbie Beadle, Executive Assistant] that you were interested in this meeting that’s scheduled in Seattle tomorrow and wanted to learn a little more about it. I’m happy to explain it to you.”

“I was trying not to send an email about it because I’m tired of having all the emails mined out by public records request and then conflated as to what they actually mean.” 

“So we were planning to meet downtown with Puget Sound Regional Council tomorrow, and I am happy to let you know a little more about what that’s about.” 

(source: January 13 audio recording obtained from the City of Sammamish)

The voicemail that was obtained through a public records request (“PRR”) can be heard in its entirety here:

David Pyle Voicemail, January 13

The Comment attempted to reach Pyle through the City’s communications manager for comments on his allegation of emails being conflated but the City did not respond.

Corder submitted his resignation as acting city manager last week, effective March 2.

Obfuscated calendars 

The Comment obtained the three officials’ calendars for that week through a PRR, but those reveal little to no details about the mystery meeting.  They do show coordination between them to keep the meeting secret.

The calendars show that Pyle invited Corder to a meeting on his calendar that was simply titled “Meeting in Seattle”. The entry has no location details. 

A second and separate calendar entry from Hilde’s calendar is also titled “Meeting in Seattle” but lists “Seattle” as location and has no invitees. 

The two different calendar entries, both obfuscated, suggest the two officials coordinated between them to hide who they are meeting with, since calendars are subject to public records requests. 

Of all the meetings the three had on their calendars that week, this is the only calendar entry that is obscure. 

For example, a snapshot of Hilde’s calendar for that entire week shows the “Meeting in Seattle” meeting is the only one obfuscated that week. This is consistent with Pyle and Corder’s calendars, reviewed by The Comment, which also include fully detailed meetings, except for the “Meeting in Seattle” meeting. 

Public Records Act 

By intentionally not leaving any written record of the meeting, Pyle, Hilde and Corder appear to  subvert the principles of the Public Records Act (PRA), a State of Washington law that was enacted in 1972, that says:

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.“

(WA State law: RCW 42.56.030)

This is not the first time City Staff got caught trying to keep meetings away from the public eye:

PSRC also has no documents 

The Comment submitted a wide range public records request to PSRC for any and all documents related to the Sammamish meeting. The request yielded only two documents, calendar entries, that do provide a slim hint on the purpose of the meeting.

The two calendar entries, for the same meeting, were titled “KC Targets” and “Sammamish and King County”.  

One entry included Inghram and Johnson from PSRC. The other one included only Wolf from King County. Sammamish staff was not named in either calendar entries.

The Comment followed up with Andy Markley, PSRC Public Records Officer: 

“Is it the PSRC’s position that a meeting just showed up on Mr. Inghram’s calendar? No scheduling emails? Then, no documents were prepared for this meeting? No emails sent about the subject?”

In response, Markley said: “I’ve double-checked with Paul [Inghram]. There were no scheduling or other emails; the meeting was just set up with a phone call. We have no additional records.”

Rick Olson, Director of Government Relations and Communications at PSRC, did not respond to questions about the meeting with Sammamish staff. 

City Council kept in the dark 

Several Council Members told The Comment they have had no knowledge of the PSRC meeting, before or after it happened.  

One Council Member told the Comment he met with Pyle and Hilde on January 15, the day after the two met with PSRC. In the meeting he raised the issue of buildable land capacity and determining growth targets – yet the two didn’t mention the PSRC meeting on growth they attended just the day before. 

The City did not respond to the Comment’s request for comments on the story.

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Copyright (c) 2020 The Sammamish Comment

18 thoughts on “City Staff Secretly Meets With King County On Growth

  1. How do we get our City to listen what it’s citizens want and not the developers! They are supposed to work transparently for all us who pay the taxes. And now we seem to be stuck with a town center few want and that was approved under very suspicious means!

  2. This is another example of why the City Council since 2016 began to hold the city manager and city staff accountable and why there has been turnover.

    The managers and staff have for years thwarted council policy and gone their own way. Tom Vance, who is on a mission to discredit those council members who are finally standing up to rogue city managers and staff members, was on the council from Jan. 2012-Dec. 2015, including the last two years as mayor. During this time, and especially as mayor, he was subservient to the city manager and staff. He was voted out of office by a 54%-46% margin to Tom Hornish. In one precinct where a controversial development project was a major election issue, Vance was defeated by a 70%-30% margin.

    Under Mayor Vance, Sammamish became known as “Variances-R-Us.” Staff actually *admitted* to a hearing examiner in the land use appeal of that big project on 228th north of SE 20th that it (staff) ignored code–and it wasn’t the first time. What did Mayor Vance do to hold the city manager and therefore the staff accountable? Nothing.

    Christie Malchow won her first election to council with Hornish, on a 58%-42% margin. She and Hornish (and with former Council Member Tom Odell, who retired from the council in Dec. 2017) led the charge to begin holding the city manager and staff accountable, beginning with traffic concurrency. They were fought every step of the way by Ramiro Valderrama and, since Jan 2018, by Valderrama, Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart.

    When the 2019 city council year began, Vance launched his little blog with the sole intent of defeating Malchow and Hornish and electing Karen McKnight, Rituja Indapure and Karen Howe to join his buddies Ritchie and Stuart. Hornish decided not to seek reelection, so Malchow became the target.

    All three of Vance’s candidates lost by 2:1 margins. The voters have spoken, and spoken loudly and clearly, But Vance isn’t listening to citizens–nor did he while on the council or as mayor. His columns since the election continue to be personal attacks on Malchow, for personal reasons.

    Have there been mistakes made by Malchow and others as they fight to end the rogue city manager and staff actions? You bet. Is morale suffering? You bet. But when house cleanings become necessary, and make no mistake, this is necessary, this is the outfall. And the details of this latest post, documented with emails, interviews and a voice mail, represent the clear intent of some staff to thwart the will of the people and transparency as required by the state’s Public Records Act.

    That Miki continues to serve as a watchdog of government is needed and beneficial. Vance is pursuing a personal agenda rather than good government.

    • … except the housecleaning has occurred twice now in a very short period of time at the City Manager position if you don’t count the interim/acting office holders. Howard needed to go, but then why hasn’t this blog called out the Malchow-led council’s failure of a hire in Rick Rudometkin? A mistake which has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid out severance.

      Apparently Rick was OK for Snoqualmie though, since they hired him as interim city administrator: https://www.valleyrecord.com/news/snoqualmie-mayor-appoints-new-interim-city-administrator/. So he’s now drawing two public salaries.

      So we now move on to David Rudat. A man who has zero experience with the Growth Management Act and has no local network of professionals to draw on to fill positions like the vacant Director of Public Works chair. As Otto the Taxpayer pointed out on another comment thread, the appointment wreaks of political patronage – the practice of hiring a supporter’s family and friends for jobs in government. This hire isn’t morally right. An outsider’s view – someone with no horse in the race – is needed now more than ever. Rudat is not an outsider with a daughter who is politically active for Malchow and a son who draws money from the city, whether that be as an employee for the city or in an EFR position funded by the city.

      Citizens of Sammamish deserve better than this. And while I appreciate this blog holding Stuart and Ritchie accountable, I want to see the other five held to the same standard. That clearly didn’t happen in the aftermath of the Rudometkin firing.

      • Factual correction: Rudat was a finalist for the same position 18 months ago. Long before the election.

        No one seriously questioned Rudat’s qualifications. Not even Stuart and Ritchie. Just because his daughter was politically active doesn’t disqualify her father. That’s just silly.

        The gma argument rings hollow. None of the former city managers in sammamish knew anything about the gma when they were hired nor should they. It’s a qualification for a city attorney not a city manager.

        Factually he’s a very experienced city manager. Let’s see what he does.

      • It’s hardly “silly,” Miki. At best, this appointment gives the appearance of a classic old boy network type of patronage, and at worst, it goes beyond mere appearance. At any rate, there’s no dispute that Mr. Rudat’s appointment creates a conflict of interest at EF&R that will require resignation or reassignment of senior personnel. That only adds to the premium charged back to the taxpayers — and let’s hope this guy doesn’t get the same generous severance as Mr. Rudometkin got, when his time comes.

        On the surface, given the economics and demographics of Sammamish, applicants for this job should be beating down the door to get in. They’re not, because the city’s reputation trumps its otherwise attractive features. We could argue about whose fault it is, but the reputation aligns pretty well with the reality right now. That’s why the choice to fill this position was reduced to the Mr. Rudat’s appointment. I hope it works out, but my expectations are low.

        The Council majority’s collective “heart” may be in the right place, but their management skills fall well short of the mark, given senior city staff appearing to go rogue, what with secret meetings and so forth. It’s an unusually difficult situation that really does require advanced skills to navigate successfully, and unfortunately none of those skills are in evidence.

      • Otto –

        Rudat was a finalist last time the city looked for an interim. He was vetted then by a professional recruiter.

        This time around it was staff decision to not open the position to a search. It was acting city manager who advanced the false narrative that the city has a reputation problem therefore don’t bother looking because no one will apply – except for the candidate he wanted. His friend. Not Rudat.

        So any appearance of a club is on staff. Not the the council.

        There is no conflict of interest because the emergency management position is now under Efr. Same cost to the city as having it in house.

        My interpretation is that this was an extension of staff trying to control the city just like those “anonymous” letters during the election.

      • While Mr. Rudat may have been vetted as a finalist in a previous CM search, one has to wonder if it was really wise of the council majority to hire someone who has even a *whiff* of conflict of interest associated with his hiring. Add to that the drama related to his previous experience as a city manager… Given the current climate at Sammamish City Hall wouldn’t it have been wiser to have stayed above the fray by hiring someone about whom such accusations could not be made? Wouldn’t it have saved a lot of unnecessary controversy? Were there no better choices in the pool of potential candidates who’d already been vetted? If not, then it was the council’s prerogative to override staff’s wishes to not engage in a candidate search. I appreciate that Sammamish’s council majority is trying to clean up what’s going on at City Hall (I’ve begged the Bellevue city manager multiple times to do this same thing), but the decision to hire Mr. Rudat is probably the one place where I’ll question the “clean up” efforts.

        As for the poor hiring decision (noted above) re: Rick Rudometkin, hiring employees is not an exact science, especially when it’s a decision made by a committee of people with varied opinions. Sometimes candidates look really good on paper and come with great references. Sometimes candidates are fantastic interviews. Sometimes you hire someone and feel really good about that hire… until you find out they’re actually a lemon. Or maybe they’re not actually a “lemon”, but they’re just not a good fit for that particular job, in that particular place of employment. There’s all kinds of ways for people to hide their professional and personal shortcomings during the job seeking process, and I assume people at the city manager level of government are probably quite skilled at it (or pay professional job coaches to help them). So what do you do when this happens? Cross your fingers and hope that everything works out? Ride out a contract & then not renew it, even though waiting until the renewal period means a lot of damage can be done in the meantime? Or do you let that employee go and keep looking? And just because an employee is picked up elsewhere (like by another city) it doesn’t actually mean anything to the city that let them go. Maybe the next city was enamored by all the same professional bells & whistles that impressed the previous city? Maybe it will be a better fit with the new city- who knows?

  3. Thank you Miki and Scott. If there is an intentional violation on the part of City Staff then charges must follow. If the only intentional avoidance was on the part of KC Staff then no actions are warranted on Sammamish City Staff. It is a concern that these Staff to Staff meetings are taking place and not openly showing up in Public Records. Thanks again.

  4. Let us look at reality. We have a City Government that does not stand with the residents. It does not matter who gets elected, they all do their own little political game. Why even vote !

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  5. This is the sort of thing that is behind the reason why some Councilmembers are questioning staff about their assumptions and recommendations. I initially wanted to believe staff with their recommendations but grew increasingly skeptical, especially during my second term. In the end, I took a “trust but verify” approach that sometimes showed at least a degree of deceit on some things.
    The Traffic Concurrency Model and the associated manipulation of the associated input data that was uncovered by Councilmembers Malchow, Hornish and myself is a classic example of that situation. There were others as well. That is why Council has had to become more proactive and questioning.

  6. Can someone leave a simple response about what the bottom line is on this dissention amongst the council and residents? I just moved here into the Beaver Lake Estates last September and love it here but hear about all this fighting not only here but in Issaquah. Is the bottom line that the residents want a moratorium on development and the council does not? I know things are not always simple or black and white but are there other general problems? Thanks

    • The Council and a vocal minority of Sammamish (including this blog) want a moratorium on development so that all our issues are compounded onto future generations.

      The reasonable majority of Sammamish realize that Seattle is growing exponentially each year and Sammamish is going to grow in some relation to that whether we like or not, so they would like a reasonable plan for growth. According to this blog and the city council, that makes us pro-development, Trump loving, gun-toting deplorables.

      • I take exception with your comment. This blog has never even mentioned Trump or anything remotely related to national politics, at least since I took over as editor.

        Second, the newly elected council members won by landslide (65%, 65%, 60%) – so by definition they represent the majority.

        You’re misleading the other readers.

  7. While I know that there are a great many staff members involved with development who have the Citizen’s interests at heart, there is an inherent conflict of interest for many of them who know that if development is curtailed — as it should be until infrastructure (schools, public services, Etc) and traffic (already overcrowded roads, safety, Etc) are dealt with — their jobs may be in jeopardy. Until those glaring problems are fully resolved, not just papered over to allow the Town Center to steam roller over our legitimate concerns, development-related staff just have to be subject to the same rules of employment as the rest of us always have been.

    Indeed, an immediate moratorium may well be the only viable solution until we can get all of this massive amount of development that is in place, in progress, and in the pipeline adequately dealt with in a manner that benefits the citizens of Sammamish, not the Developers.

    Thank you very much for listening.

  8. Great job Miki! Thank you for continuing to bring us this kind of great investigative journalism. I’m now doubly glad that the acting city manager Chris Corder is gone. Good riddance. We have to stop this kind of “deep state” maneuvering. I’m so proud of our city council for taking action leading to Chris Corder’s removal, thank you Mayor Moran, Deputy Mayor Malchow, council members Chris Ross, Ken Gamblin and Kent Treen! We need an outsider to come in and clean house at Sammamish City Hall. Too many deep staters running around.

  9. Considering that the DOJ has got King County in it’s sights for being a sanctuary county…can this secret meeting have had more to do with meeting quotas for illegal ‘residents’ Just thinking….

  10. I believe there are also secret meetings in the Parks department. I have emails from staff to support this.. clearly unqualified staff who spend tax payer $$ pushing their agendas. No regard for the citizens, no regard for spending, no regard for the City of Sammamish. How many staff live in Sammamish? 9. Independent contractor needs to audit staff qualifications , hours and spending! Staff have been hired in positions simply based on need, not qualification… and since the City Manager position is continuously un-filled, who’s managing the Directors and staff? No one…. and they know it. Don’t even get me started on Town Center and the land grab situation there! Oh boy!!

  11. I’m a Bellevue resident following the Sammamish saga with interest, mostly because there are parallels (and intersections) with issues in Bellevue. I read this blog as well as Tom Vance’s blog for a balanced understanding of what’s going on at Sammamish City Hall.

    I don’t know if it’s any comfort to City of Sammamish residents, but you are not alone in battling city staff who want to control things for their own professional betterment. It’s happening all over the region, including in Bellevue. Sammamish citizens are lucky they have a current council majority who are leading the battle against staff’s use of obfuscation and omission to undermine the wishes of both the council and the citizens re: growth & development. In Bellevue our council majority is in league with the staff, and the council minority (who know about but are not okay with what the staff is doing) refuse to say anything about it for fear of staff retaliation. In Bellevue it is the citizens leading the battle against city staff through groups like Eastgate Residents Committee (ERC), the (in hiatus) Clarity Bellevue FB page, and other citizen groups. Through public records requests the ERC uncovered a very large & shocking betrayal of citizens by staff & some council members related to siting of a ginormous low-barrier men’s homeless shelter in Eastgate. The Newport Hills neighborood uncovered meetings between a developer whose plans would have destroyed our neighborhood and some council members who, upon staff recommendation, refused to meet with Newport Hills residents to hear our concerns. I’m sure there’s more, but City of Bellevue has been thwarting records request efforts by delaying the delivery of records or not producing them at all.

    I’m bummed that Paul Ingraham of PSRC was involved in the secret meetings with Sammamish staff. He came from Bellevue’s Community Development staff and I’d always considered him “one of the good guys”. I thought he left because he wasn’t terribly impressed with the direction things were going re: staff behavior. Maybe I was wrong… maybe he was part of it all along and he was offered an even better position because of it? Ugh…

    City of Bellevue has also experienced a mass exodus in several departments over the last 12-18 months. We’re talking long-time department heads, senior planners, etc. They either “retire”, suddenly & mysteriously “move on to other opportunities” (after 20+ years with CoB), or they move to positions with nearby cities (ex: Redmond). I don’t know if there’s any connection, but it seems like the exodus started after the rise of the citizen groups. I’ve been told by senior neighborhood advocates there’s always been staff shenanigans but never to the degree we’ve seen in the last couple of years; city staff previously seemed to believe they were untouchable. Perhaps before the advent of social media as a means of information sharing and organizing the staff were untouchable because most citizens were unaware of what’s going on down at City Hall. Those days are gone and now city staff members (the bad ones) are scrambling as light is being shone on their actions. Not all members of city staffs are bad, so please do remember to point out and thank the good ones.

    There’s a citizen call for change in Bellevue and we are slowly but surely making an impact. It’s OUR city and the planning for growth & development should reflect that, not serve as a means for city planners to win professional awards at our expense or for developers to line their pockets as our quality of life suffers. Growth is inevitable; the GMA requires it. However, smart planning can make that growth less painful if there is concurrency with much-needed infrastructure to support the growth. Concurrency… are any Eastside cities actually adhering to the concurrency requirements in the GMA these days? Bellevue isn’t, and that’s something for which citizens are calling them out. We’re educating Newcastle residents about the GMA & concurrency also, since their (past) city council majority allowed the staff to overpermit residential growth without thought or concurrency. So keep on keepin’ on, Sammamish residents- it’s YOUR city.

    By the way, it seems your city staff found the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Your Transportation planner, Doug McIntyre, did a 7 month stint in Bellevue’s Community Development department. They threw the poor “new guy” into the lion’s den of leading the update process for decades-old neighborhood subarea plans. He was expected to make things right after two senior planners had bailed on the project, which has been a hot freaking mess from the outset. I don’t really blame him for bailing & coming back to City of Sammamish. But please… don’t send us any more of your employees. We have enough going on over here. Thanks!

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