By Miki Mullor
An investigation report of suspected malfeasance by Sammamish City Manager David Rudat has been kept from the public by his staff for over three months now.
Multiple public records requests (PRRs) submitted by media outlets and citizens have been delayed because of “legal review.” However, invoices from the law firm handling PRR reviews show a review has not been started in two and a half months.
The Sammamish Comment also learned that City Council members were only given a temporary, staff-supervised limited access to a shortened version of the full report.
Only an 11 page executive summary, prepared by the city staff’s request so as to not disclose confidential information, has been released to the public.
And while the investigation of the City Manager is still pending, the outside attorney in charge of his investigation was hired by the City Manager to represent the City on another case–raising concerns for the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Due to misinformation spread in the community and social media, The Comment is resuming limited coverage of city hall.
City confidential information compromised
An investigation of the City Manager was conducted by outside attorney Katherine F. Weber of Inslee, Best, Doezie & Ryder between June 29 and October 29, 2021, due to a complaint submitted by then-editor of the Sammamish Comment, Miki Mullor.
The complaint provided evidence that Stephanie Rudat, the daughter of the City Manager, is allegedly privy to City’s confidential attorney-client information, eavesdropped on calls the City Manager had with council members and exercised certain influence over City operations.
“Based on its review of the provided communications, a majority of the Councilmembers initiated an investigation regarding the City Manager’s conduct during the May 18, 2021, council meeting. The scope of this investigation focused on whether the City Manager had engaged in unlawful, unethical or otherwise improper conduct or communications in his official role as City Manager,” wrote Weber in the Executive Summary of the investigation report.
Then-Mayor Karen Moran, council member Kent Treen, and former council member Ken Gamblin voted against opening an investigation.
Stephanie Rudat’s political activity has raised concerns about her use of “inside access” to city operations and her eavesdropping on private discussions with council members, to influence city council votes and shape public opinion.
Stephanie Rudat’s misrepresentation to the public
In a post in her 990 members’ Facebook group “Vote Sammamish” she controls, Rudat publicly denied any such special access: “[I] don’t have access to information I shouldn’t. There is no ‘inside scheme’… attacking me for an assumption that I have more influence, insight, or power than I actually have would be wrong; misinformed.”
But in her report, Weber concludes otherwise. “The weight of the evidence supports a finding that…the Family Member [Stephanie Rudat] was privy to certain attorney-client communications between the City Manager, the City’s attorney and, in some cases, other City staff, with respect to these issues.”
“The Family Member [Stephanie Rudat] acknowledged that she would sometimes “listen in” on the City Manager’s business conversations when these occurred at her residence; the evidence indicates that this “eavesdropping” included communications with the City’s attorney, which the Family Member knew (or reasonably should have known) to be protected by the attorney-client and work product privileges,” the executive summary states.
Council members not aware of eavesdropping
The executive summary also concludes Stephanie Rudat has eavesdropped on calls the City Manager had with unsuspecting council members:
“The record indicated that, in addition to conversations between the City Manager and the City’s Attorney, the Family Member [Stephanie Rudat] also listened to conversations between the City Manager and individual Councilmembers regarding City business. These conversations included the City Manager’s communications with various Councilmembers. Each of the Council Members interviewed indicated that they were unaware that the Family Member was listening to their conversations with the City Manager,” stated the investigator.
Stephanie Rudat trades with confidential information
During a period in 2020, while the City Manager was still an interim City Manager, Stephanie Rudat promoted herself to The Comment as a valuable source, providing unsolicited confidential information on city business to prove her value.
The Comment has never used such information in our reporting, but when it became clear during the budget discussions in November 2020 that Rudat was using her inside access to impact council members’ votes through her control of local social media, the editor of The Comment submitted the evidence to the City Council for an investigation. To protect the city’s confidential information, the evidence was submitted under a non-disclosure agreement in a password-locked file.
In private, in contrary to her public statements, and in line with the investigator’s findings, Rudat admitted to Scott Hamilton, the founder of The Comment, she is indeed in possession of confidential information:
Investigation report release delayed
During the November 16, 2020 council meeting, then-Council member Tom Odell moved to terminate with cause the City Manager based the findings of the investigation. His motion failed 2-5, with only then-Council member Pam Stuart supporting his motion to terminate.
Following the meeting, several public records requests (PRRs) have been submitted to the City to disclose the investigation report: the Seattle Times, the Sammamish Comment, the Sammamish Independent, former Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama and Todd Langton, a resident. Under the Public Records Act, a report of an investigation is public record, subject to only very specific redactions of identifying information.
All five public records requests received the following, largely identical, responses from the City, documenting ongoing delays in the release of the full report:
“11/30/2021- Sent 5 day response.
Installment expected 12/15/2021.
AK 12/16/2021 – Sent first installment. [the 11 page executive summary]
Next installment expected 1/18/2022. CS
1/19/2022- Emailed update that installment now expected 2/18/2022. KK
2/18/2022- Update on next installment date from legal expected by 2/25/2022. KK
2/25/2022- Emailed update that next installment now expected 3/28/2022. KK”
(AK, CS and KK are short for city employees’ names).
In an email sent to Scott Hamilton, the founder of The Comment and one of the requesters, the city said that “legal is reviewing a longer version of the “Executive Summary Report of Investigation” that will include redactions.”
The Comment reviewed legal bills submitted to the City by the outside law firm that reviews public records requests (“PRR”). In these bills, attorneys detail which PRR they have been working on.
During the months of November, December and January, none of the PRRs concerning the investigation report have been worked on, according to the invoices. The invoices also reveal very little work on all other PRRs, raising questions on whether the City is using the legal review step to stonewall PRRs. In total for all about 70 pending PRRs, legal spent in November 38 hours, in December 26 hours, and in January 17.9 hours, even as PRRs were getting delayed over and over.
For example, PRR 4210 from Paul Stickney, a resident, requesting a single document, the City Manager’s response to City Council over his investigation (read to the Council at its Dec. 14 public meeting), took over 70 days to produce the written copy. In a PRR submitted by Hamilton, Christie Malchow, then deputy mayor, returned a text message to the City the next day. It took the city more than two months to send the text to Hamilton. Records requested by a Malchow critic also were supplied by Malchow to the city within days, but have not been supplied to the requestor, months later.
In contrast, the record shows that PRR 4053, submitted by Mark Conrad, the City Manager’s personal attorney has been receiving prompt responses from city staff, including four batches of documents:
“9/21/2021- Sent 5 day response. Installment due 10/22/2021. AK
10/22/2021- Sent first installment. Next due 11/23/2021. AK
11/23/2021- Sent second installment. Next due 12/10/2021. AK
12/10/2021- Sent third installment. Next due 1/18/2022. AK
1/19/2022- Emailed update that installment now expected 2/11/2022. KK
2/11/2022- Emailed update that installment now expected 2/15/2022. KK
2/15/2022- Sent fourth installment via Hightail. Fifth installment expected 3/3/2022. KK”
(source: City of Sammamish, PRR 4053)
Mr. Conrad’s PRR is to monitor The Comment’s editor’s communications with the City Council. Documents from this PRR have been used by the City Manager to attack The Comment, Mayor Christie Malchow and former council member Odell over his investigation.
Council members had limited restricted access to the report
Two council members told The Comment that council members were not allowed to freely review a 44 pages version of the full report or the full report itself. The city restricted their access to the 44 page summary of the report and only under the supervision of someone from Ms. Freeman’s law firm.
The 44 pages summary was also sent in a hard copy to the homes of all seven council members in a FedEx envelope, but was recalled before it reached the destinations, and council members were ordered not to open the envelope and to return the unopened report.
Attorney’s appearance of a conflict of interest
In addition to hiring an outside law firm to conduct the investigation, the city also hired attorney Jayne L. Freeman of Keating, Bucklin & McCormack, to oversee the review of the findings and advise council members on possible action.
Court records show that sometime before November 3, 2021, the city retained Ms. Freeman to represent it in a court case brought by a former employee, Kate Langsdorff. Langsdorff alleges wrongful retaliatory termination by the City Manager.
Legal affairs are under the control of the City Manager exclusively, raising an appearance of a conflict of interest for Ms. Freeman for advising the city on an investigation against the City Manager while at the same time being hired by him for other legal projects.
City emails show that Ms. Freeman was already engaged with the city on the Langsdorff case before she was scheduled to discuss legal recommendations regarding the city manager’s fate.
– 11 pages executive summary
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