By Scott Hamilton
Nov. 30, 2021: The fate of Sammamish City Manager David Rudat may rest with Amy Lam, the City Council’s newest member.
Lam was elected Nov. 2 to fill out the remaining term of Jason Ritchie, who resigned early this year. Tom Odell was appointed to fill the position until the election. Lam defeated planning commissioner Josh Amato. The election was certified Nov. 23, at which time Odell left the council.
Lam hasn’t been sworn in yet. If she isn’t by the city clerk before the Dec. 7 council meeting, the next one after the Thanksgiving holiday, she will be then.
And one of the first decision she faces is whether to vote to suspend Rudat for 30 days without pay for mishandling confidential information and for other transgressions.
A response from Rudat
David Rudat has been under investigation by an outside attorney hired by the city since May, when the council voted 4-3 to launch the probe. Odell, Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow, and members Pam Stuart and Chris Ross voted for the probe. Mayor Karen Moran and members Ken Gamblin and Kent Treen opposed launching an investigation.
City attorney Lisa Marshall recused herself from the investigation, citing a conflict of interest over advising the majority of four while also being asked to advise the minority of three. The majority voted to hire an outside attorney to conduct the investigation. A second outside council also was hired to advise the minority of three.
The investigation consumed all summer and well into the fall. Things came to a head on Nov. 16, following over 10 hours of discussions in executive sessions over several council meetings, when Odell moved to give Rudat notice of termination for cause, subject to his having an opportunity to respond. Stuart seconded the motion, but it failed on a 2-5 vote when none of the other council members supported termination.
Ross then immediately moved to suspend Rudat for 30 days without pay. No action would be taken until after Rudat had a chance to respond by Nov. 30—today—after which, the council would decide whether to proceed with a suspension or abandon the disciplinary action.
Rudat left for vacation shortly after for the rest of the month. It’s unknown whether he submitted a response before today, or whether one will be forthcoming by the end of the day. He returns from vacation tomorrow.
Lam, a newcomer to city politics, wasn’t included in executive sessions held since the election. She led Amato on election night, but it wasn’t until several days later that her lead increased sufficiently for Amato to concede. She subsequently wasn’t invited into executives sessions, however, to learn the details of the probe.
Although Odell left office on Nov. 24, Lam wasn’t immediately sworn in—an action the city clerk could immediately undertake but hasn’t yet. Historically, council members are sworn in at the first council meeting in January following the election. Regular council terms expire on Dec. 31. (Legally, this leaves three or four council seats vacant between Dec. 31 and the first council meeting in January, but this is a conversation for another time.) Odell’s appointment was the first to fill a vacancy since Lee Fellinge was named to succeed Troy Romero in the early 2000s. Romero resigned, having moved to San Diego.
Lam faces a steep learning curve on her first day in office to understand the issues behind the move to fire or suspend Rudat. In the letter to Rudat formally notifying of plans to suspend him for 30 days without pay, the council cited concerns over his releasing confidential information to parties outside the city’s employ, being improperly influenced by outside parties, and breaching the city’s attorney-client privilege.
The investigative report has not been released to the public. Several parties, including Sammamish Comment and a reporter for The Seattle Times, filed public records requests for the report.
Underlying some of the issues are charges that Rudat released information from Executive Sessions. These sessions are by law permissible, closed-door meetings to deal with topics such as land acquisition, lawsuits or potential lawsuits, and personnel. What goes on behind closed doors is supposed to be kept confidential. Councilmember Stuart was sanctioned earlier this year for allegedly releasing information from executive sessions to the public, during a council meeting. (Stuart denied doing so.)
Yet it was clear Nov. 16 that plans for a vote on Rudat’s fate at that night’s city council meeting had been leaked from Executive Session. Citizens Jennifer Kim and Michael Soles, commenting at the top of the council meeting in support of Rudat remaining city manager, were clear they knew a vote was coming.
Scoles went even farther. He said that he’s met over the years with every council member except Stuart and inferred that each, at some time, shared information with him from Executive Sessions. In June, after the investigation was underway, Scoles was more explicit. In emails subject to public records disclosure, Scoles specifically accused Malchow of breaching Executive Session confidentiality, claiming he had seen emails to this effect. In neither that email thread nor on Nov. 16 did Scoles provide any details or proof. Malchow denies the accusation.
Kim defended Rudat as a competent city manager, as did Scoles, who has the support of staff. Yet on Sept. 29, the two-person Human Resources department resigned out of the blue. One gave only two days’ notice with the resignation and the other left the following week. The Comment confirmed that the resignations were at least in part due to disagreement with Rudat’s leadership decisions. No-notice or virtually no-notice resignations are highly unusual and frowned upon.
The council also received several emails from citizens supporting Rudat, some with clear knowledge a vote was being taken that night. The language in several of the emails was very similar, suggesting a coordinated campaign had been undertaken to email council members. There was no indication of how the citizens were aware of Executive Session information or intent. There was no indication in the emails that Rudat was aware of the email campaign.
As it now stands
Given the Nov. 16 vote and with Odell leaving the council Nov. 24, the council is split 3-3 on potential discipline for Rudat. Malchow, Ross and Stuart want to suspend Rudat. Moran, Gamblin, and Treen do not. Unless one of these six votes flips, the stalemate is left to Lam to break the tie. Despite making the motion to suspend Rudat, subject to his possible explanations, Ross is known to flip-flop from previously-held positions.
Dec. 7 and 14 are the next council meetings.