By Scott Hamilton
Nov. 17, 2021: The Sammamish City Council split Nov. 16 over whether to fire City Manager David Rudat or suspend him for 30 days without pay.
The motion by Council Member Tom Odell to notify Rudat, who was present and listening to the debate, that he would be fired for cause failed on a 2-5 vote. Council Member Pam Stuart supported Odell. Mayor Karen Moran, Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow, and Members Ken Gamblin, Kent Treen and Chris Ross opposed the move.
Ross then moved to suspend Rudat for 30 days without pay, after allowing Rudat to first respond to allegations of improprieties. Malchow seconded this motion. They were joined by Gamblin and Moran. Odell, Stuart and Treen opposed this motion.
Rudat has until Nov. 30 to respond before the suspension potentially is enacted.
Months of investigation
The actions come following months of investigation “To Evaluate Complaints or Charges brought against a Public Officer or Employee pursuant to RCW 42.30.110 (1)(f)” against Rudat. The probe was conducted by an outside attorney retained specifically for the investigation.
Moran, Gamblin and Treen voted months ago against launching the investigation. Sammamish Comment learned that Moran and Gamblin were concerned that the probe and any action that might result could have a detrimental effect on Moran’s campaign for a second term in the November 2 election. She won with 75% of the vote against a token opponent.
The investigation falls under the Executive Session provisions of state law, in which the city council discusses personnel matters. The council has held multiple executive sessions before last night’s action. The discussions within the sessions are not public. But debate over the two motions hinted at what was behind the moves to fire or suspend Rudat.
The investigation involved people outside the city government and centered on alleged improprieties of Rudat.
The motion to fire
Odell moved to adopt a resolution to notify Rudat that he would be terminated for cause, following an opportunity allowing him to respond in 30 days. Stuart seconded.
“I make this motion because the city manager has failed to adequately protect sensitive information from disclosure and failed to follow code of conduct,” Odell said.
“I support this motion. We’ve been conducting this investigation for quite some time. There is a pattern of behavior. There is a failure to protect sensitive information. I have lost confidence” in Rudat.
Moran kept interrupting Stuart, charging her with “pontificating” and not making her point. Moran characterized Stuart’s comments as “opinion.” Stuart objected to Moran’s frequent interruptions and characterization of her comments as “opinion.” The independent legal investigation was based on factual findings that drove Stuart’s decision and rationale.
“There is a pattern of behavior,” Stuart said.
“I am not going to support the motion for termination,” Malchow said. She said the report did not specify whether failure to safeguard information was tacit. Malchow instead supported a reprimand.
Moran opposed firing as well. “It’s against the spirit of any contract we have with the city manager. It’s premature. What we have, we were just starting to look at it and requires an explanation.”
“We have facts,” Stuart replied. “We have facts that the city manager failed to safeguard information.” Rudat, she said, violated the code of conduct of the International City/County Management Association and of the city’s code of conduct. The facts, Stuart said, also pointed to the city manager not protecting himself from undue influence of “outside people,” whom she did not identify.
Gamblin said “The entire investigation got off on the wrong foot. There was not enough discussion with the city manager. The preponderance of evidence points to lapses in judgment. It doesn’t rise to the level of termination. I think it’s laughable.”
Motion for suspension
Following the 2-5 vote for termination, Ross moved for a 30 day suspension without pay. Ross felt Rudat’s actions fell short of termination but “some sanction is appropriate given facts and information. It doesn’t say we lost confidence in the city manager. He’s a very talented individual. This gives us the opportunity to work with the city manager going forward for a positive relationship.”
Stuart, however, noted that the council terminated two city managers in the last 3.5 years “for far less,” and “We have evidence he lied to the investigator.”
A grim-faced Rudat was mute throughout the debate.
At the root of the investigation
What’s at the root of the investigation, in a confidential complaint filed by Miki Mullor, the editor of The Comment, is evidence that Dave Rudat was sharing confidential city information with his daughter, Stephanie Rudat. Stephanie Rudat is an administrator-moderator of several Sammamish-oriented Facebook groups. Criticisms of Dave Rudat and of council members she supports are often deleted, or threatened with deletion, from these groups. But one member of these groups, who uses the screen name David Benedet, is freely allowed to criticize Mullor and council members opposed to David Rudat. (This writer was thrown out of Save Sammamish today for criticizing one of the administrators, Kartik Mithal, for allowing Benedet’s latest rant and for Mithal posting his own allegations toward Mullor.) Mullor has evidence that Benedet receives talking points from Stephanie Rudat.
After Mullor in late May confidentially circulated alleged malfeasance evidence to the council, which ultimately led to the 4-3 decision to hire an outside investigator, Moran immediately leaked the existence of the document to Stephanie Rudat. Two days after the leak, a Dave Rudat supporter filed a dozen or so public records requests targeting Mullor, who is a private citizen, and his wife, insinuating an undue influence on city council members. Some of the PRRs also named this writer, who had virtually no contact with council members or staff since the 2019 election.
In the months since the investigation began, Moran, Gamblin and Treen have through action or inaction moved to delay the probe.
The investigation’s report remains, for the moment, sealed in executive session deliberations.
Update: Administrators have now blocked the writer from Vote Sammamish and Sammamish. The administrators include Mithal and, for Vote Sammamish, Stephanie Rudat.