By Miki Mullor
The Sammamish emergency preparedness manager was transferred to Fire District 10 on March 2 amid controversy that goes across a broad spectrum. The transfer is unrelated to the Coronavirus outbreak.
- Complaint of harassment and political retaliation levied against council member Pam Stuart by the City’s Emergency Preparedness Manager employee, Andrew Stevens.
- Stuart subsequently levied a charge of making a threat against Stevens.
- Stuart complains of Stevens’ wife’s involvement in a Facebook election-oriented group and being “very mean.”
- Roots date to 2015 during the administration of then-Mayor Tom Vance and then-city manager Ben Yazici, when neglect and equipment failure was revealed.
2015: City unprepared for emergencies
Andrew Stevens was hired in 2017 after Sammamish Comment and a city-hired consultant revealed neglect and serious shortcomings in the city’s emergency preparedness. These issues date to 2015, when then-Mayor Tom Vance and then-City Manager Ben Yazici were exposed neglecting preparations for emergencies and equipment in the city’s emergency operations center didn’t work.
Even after signing on to the Cascadia Rising earthquake drill, Sammamish failed to participate in its own emergency preparedness event at City Hall, The Comment revealed back then.
Emergency preparedness is for earthquakes and other natural disasters, severe weather-related events, mass shootings, etc.
Stevens has a long background in emergency preparedness, having worked for Downey in California and for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Related stories from 2015:
- Sammamish scrambles to join multi-state, multi-jurisdictional earthquake drill after skipping sign-up deadline last year
- City inaction to earthquake preparedness is of shocking magnitude; Yazici mounts defense, decries political “silly season”
- Sammamish unprepared for disaster, says city consultant
- Sammamish hires full-time emergency management director
Steven’s complaint of “harassment, political retaliation” by Stuart
Late last year Stevens complained to then-City Manager Rick Rudometkin that he had been subjected to harassment and retaliation by Council Member Pam Stuart – an investigation report issued by the City on Nov. 25 and obtained by The Comment – reveals.
Stevens reported that Stuart approached him two days after the 2019 city council elections in November, asserting he’s doing a “very good job” but that his wife, Stephanie Rudat, was “very mean on Facebook.” Stevens further said that Stuart verbally accosted Rudat in front of their children in front of the Safeway supermarket in Sammamish. The City’s investigation confirms “Councilwoman Stuart approached Mr. Stevens with what can be construed as a derogatory statement concerning his wife.”
Stevens felt Stuart was threatening his job and retaliating against him because of his wife’s political activity that opposed Stuart.
Rudat was then, and is now, a co-administrator of an 850 member Facebook group called Vote Sammamish. Most posters in that group favored candidates opposing Stuart’s three choices in the election. Stuart favored Karen McKnight, Rituja Indapure and Karen Howe, who lost by roughly 2:1 margins. Rudat occasionally posted in the forum and other Facebook groups, including challenging Stuart on what Rudat thought was a “divisive, reckless behavior” during the last election – which Stuart denied.
Stuart’s counter claim of a “threat”
The City’s report reveals that upon hearing about Stevens’ informing the incident to the City Manager, Stuart contacted then-City Manager Rudometkin and requested action against Stevens for making a physical threat against her.
Upon leaving the City Manager’s office, Stevens was heard saying: “If she [Stuart] was a man and insulted my wife, I would have popped the guy one!.” An unidentified staff member informed Stuart of Stevens’ complaint against her to the City Manager and of his comment – which Stuart viewed as a threat against her.
According to the report, Stuart said that “[she] was scared for her family, especially her teenage daughter” and reported Stevens to the Police. However was told by the police that Stevens did not directly threaten her.
Right after Stevens reported Stuart to the City Manager, Mary Beth Neeson of the city’s human resource department investigated and determined that Stevens’s comment violated a city policy against “any act or threat of violence by or against any employee, customer, supplier, partner or visitor.” Stevens told Neeson the comment was “hypothetical and was not directed at anyone, especially council member Stuart,” the report says.
Neeson refused to investigate Stevens’ complaint against Stuart, claiming the lack of authority to do so:
“As you may be aware, the City of Sammamish is required to investigate an allegation that a City employee has engaged in harassment, whether the allegation is by one employee as to another employee, or by the employee as to a non-employee. Here, the “non-employee” is a council member,” Neeson told The Comment in an emailed statement.
“The Sammamish Employee Handbook is applicable to City employees and volunteers, and was not intended to address the conduct of council members. Accordingly, the City does not intend to conduct an investigation of the Councilmember Stuart because the City has no authority to do so.”
Neeson also accepted at face value, without investigation, Stuart’s incendiary charges that Stevens and his wife were “dangerous” people, based on what Stuart claims she read on Facebook. Stuart stated that Mrs. Stevens’ family in California are “very dangerous people” and she is especially scared of Mrs. Stevens because “her family has done terrible things to people.” Stuart did not provide details or basis for her charges.
The investigation concluded with no recommendation for a disciplinary action against Stevens, who has no previous disciplinary actions in his personnel file.
The Comment reached out to Stuart for more details about her statements about Mrs. Stevens’ family. Stuart did not respond by email, but instead posted on her official facebook page:
City manager needed
A few weeks after this drama was the need to hire a new, interim City Manager. The council, on a unanimous vote, fired Rudometkin for job performance for reasons unrelated to this controversy.
By now, the New Year had passed and those elected Nov. 5 were seated on the council. A super-majority consisting of Karen Moran, who was named mayor, Christie Malchow, named deputy mayor, and members Kent Treen, Ken Gamblin and Chris Ross faced off against the minority of Stuart and close ally Jason Ritchie.
The candidate favored by the council majority was David Rudat, the former City Manager of the City of Orange in southern California. David Rudat is father to Stephanie and father-in-law to Stevens. Previously, in-mid 2018, David Rudat was one of the two finalists in the professional search for an interim City Manager conducted after former City Manager Lyman Howard was fired. The City Council eventually picked Larry Patterson. Rudat was appointed interim City Manager by the City of Alameda in the Bay area.
This time, the Sammamish City Council super majority favored David Rudat because of his management experience, leadership skills and his flexibility on minimum contract length terms. Large severance payouts to former City Managers Rudometkin and Howard have left city council with very little appetite for another long term commitment out of the gate. Other candidates demanded minimum 18 months contracts. Rudat signaled willingness to serve beyond the initial six months term should City Council wish so.
David Rudat came with his own controversies. When he became the City Manager of Orange, earlier in his career, he was accused of ethics violation for directing a building inspector to meet with a former client of his wife, who is a real estate agent, to discuss the former client’s alleged building code violations. According to law in California, Rudat should have waited 12 months from the day his wife sold the house before getting involved. Other allegations that were initially alleged against Rudat were dismissed.
The ethics violation was resolved with a $2,000 settlement. The City Attorney of Orange justified the settlement by describing the alleged violation as “a technicality” and added that Rudat did not benefit from it financially. The City Attorney acknowledged that his office should have explained the law, which is very complex, to Rudat, and added that Rudat did not intentionally violate it. Court documents obtained by The Comment confirm the settlement details.
Following the settlement, Rudat remained the City Manager of Orange for an additional eight years until he retired in 2005.
The Comment learned that the King County Sheriff department conducted a background check for David Rudat prior to his appointment as interim City Manager in Sammamish.
As the father-in-law to Stevens, council members in the majority and minority recognized there would be a conflict of interest with Stevens reporting to City Manager Rudat, whether directly or indirectly.
Additionally, the involvement of Stuart in Stevens’ harassment/hostile work environment complaint presented complications. Finally, the city’s own policies prohibited the chain-of-command reporting conflict.
To resolve the conflict of interest, an agreement was negotiated to transfer Stevens to District 10, which is part of the Eastside Fire & Rescue consortium that provides fire and rescue service to Sammamish, Issaquah and North Bend.
This was not a new idea. In January 2019, then-Interim City Manager Patterson suggested moving the Emergency Preparedness function to District 10 for operational reasons, after having discussions with Chief Clark.
District 10 is headquartered in Issaquah, where Stevens’ office is now located. He reports to fire chief Jeff Clark. Sammamish executives are no longer in the chain-of-command over Stevens.
Stuart: “It’s not personal”
Stuart, and Ritchie, voted against the agreement covering the Stevens transfer and against hiring David Rudat. Ritchie didn’t detail why he opposed it, but at the Feb. 18 council meeting, Stuart said her opposition wasn’t personal:
“I just feel a need to reiterate that again this isn’t personal as a council it is our responsibility to execute these duties with the best interests of the city in mind.” – Stuart said during the council meeting.
Scott Hamilton contributed to this report.
Reference: City of Sammamish Investigation report
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