By Scott Hamilton
March 11, 2022: A complaint was filed this week with State Attorney General Bob Ferguson over the City of Sammamish investigation of City Manager David Rudat and the refusal to release the full investigative reports sought by multiple parties under the Public Records Act.
Former Council Member Tom Odell filed the complaint, dated March 3. It was received by the AG’s office this week.
Odell filed his complaint days before the City Attorney finally responded March 9 to a Public Records Request (PRR) filed by The Sammamish Comment on November 19, 2021, seeking the full reports. (See this story.) Odell is likely to file an amendment or supplement to his complaint in the coming days.
“I think the reports should be released quickly irrespective of the damage it may cause in other quarters,” Odell told The Comment on March 9. “Obviously some people are reluctant to have this put out for some reason. I won’t speculate as to why.” However, it is believed by some that there is politically damaging information to Council Members Karen Moran and Kent Treen. Supporters of Rudat also have charged that all members of the 2019-2021 City Council except Pam Stuart leaked privileged information from Executive Sessions to Michael Scoles, a vociferous critic of Christie Malchow. All of these council members except Moran denied they leaked information when asked this week. Moran did not respond to The Comment’s question.
Odell, commenting on the City Attorney’s refusal to release the reports, said there is a compelling public interest to override claims of exemption from PRRs. The taxpayers and citizens of Sammamish have a right to know what has consumed so much of the Council’s time over the past year.
Malchow, the current mayor, had no comment to Sammamish Comment when asked if she thought releasing the reports was in the public interest of the taxpayers and citizens of the city.
Odell initiates Rudat probe
Odell, when serving on the Council, initiated the investigation of Rudat on a 4-3 vote. Joining Odell were then-Deputy Mayor Malchow and members Chris Ross and Stuart. Opposing the probe were Mayor Moran and members Ken Gamblin and Treen.
Outside attorneys were hired to conduct the investigation, represent the minority council members, and to recommend sanctions if warranted.
- City withholds Rudat reports, cites attorney-client privilege, work product
- City manager agrees to resign effective March 31
- City Staff delays release of full investigation reports of their boss
- Council tables action on city manager
- Council extends deadline for city manager to respond
- Council rejects firing city manager; 30 day suspension favored
The Seattle Times, Sammamish Comment, Sammamish Independent and citizens filed Public Records Requests for a 44 page short version and the 80+ page long version of the investigative reports in November, within days of council action to fire Rudat. This failed on a 2-5 vote (Odell and Stuart favoring). A motion to suspend Rudat for 30 days passed but was abated to allow Rudat to respond to the reports. An executive summary of the report was released by the city attached to the formal notice of disciplinary action.
But the release of the full reports was been extended several times. It was just shy of four months since The Comment’s PRR request that the City Attorney finally responded denying the release of the reports. This denial came days after The Comment called Kenyon Disend, the Issaquah law firm contracted to review PRRs, and Kari Sand, an attorney with a Seattle law firm acting as the City Attorney, seeking information about the reports and when they would be released. Neither Disend or Sand returned the calls.
On Feb. 25, a management analyst in the city Clerk’s department wrote Sammamish Comment that “Our estimated next installment date is 3/28/22. My understanding is that legal is reviewing a longer version of the “Executive Summary Report of Investigation” that will include redactions.”
However, she refused to reveal who is conducting the legal review. Following two inquiries, the analyst wrote, “I don’t know who is reviewing it. Kenyon Disend is contracted to review public records on behalf of the City.” Despite another request that she find out, no response has been forthcoming.
The Comment previously reviewed invoices from Kenyon Desend for November, December, and January. The invoices detailed reviews identified by the tracking number issued by the city. None of the PRRs for the reports appeared on the Disend invoices.
The Comment separately confirmed that Disend does not have the reports, despite the Clerk’s analyst writing that Disend is contracted to review PRRs. Additionally, The Comment confirmed that the City Attorney was the responsible party to clear the report. The attorney is Kari Sand of the Seattle law firm Ogden Murphy Wallace. She did not return two phone calls and one email to determine the status of the review.
The City Attorney reports to the City Manager, Rudat.
On November 15 last year, outside counsel Jayne Freeman wrote the City Council in which she characterized the “full report” as covered by attorney-client privilege. Given this revelation, it begs the question why it took until March 9—16 weeks and two days later—to tell the outside world that the report was considered such.
In his complaint to the attorney general, Odell wrote, “To date, both of these reports remain publicly suppressed through what appears to be a misuse of the regulations covering Council Executive Sessions under RCW 42.30.110 and attorney-client privilege.”
Odell also wrote, “neither of the 88-page nor the 44-page reports have been publicly released despite numerous Public Records Requests submitted over two and a half months ago by The Seattle Times, two other publications, and several private citizens for both longer reports. Only a very brief, highly edited, 10-page “Executive Summary” has been released.”
Odell asks the attorney general to initiate an investigation and Odell “[requests] the assistance of your office in obtaining the release of all related investigative reports as well as an investigation into the comportment of the City Manager and related issues….”
None of the past or present Council Members have their own copies of the reports. The previous Council (Moran, Malchow, Odell, Ross, Stuart, Gamblin, and Treen) was mailed the 44-page report by FedEx. The packages were recalled before delivery with instructions to do so unopened. The mailing was recalled by one of the outside counsels at the direction of then-Mayor Moran, Odell said. They then were read the contents of the report. The new council members, who replaced Ross, Stuart, and Odell, who did not stand for election last November, also have not received a copy of the report. They were briefed on its contents.
At the December 13 City Council meeting, Rudat—citing findings from the executive summary—claimed he was exonerated on key elements of the complaint that prompted the probe. That complaint was filed with the city by Comment editor Miki Mullor. The complaint charged Rudat with leaking confidential city information to his daughter, Stephanie Rudat. The investigation, summarized in the executive summary, concluded that at least some of the leaks were unintentional. But the executive summary also revealed that some appeared to be otherwise.
Despite claiming exoneration by the investigation, the 44- and 88-page reports remain in the City Attorney’s office more than four months after completion and nearly four months after multiple PRRs were filed.
Dragging feet on producing PRRs
On November 16, in advance of the Council meeting at which a vote was planned to fire Rudat, Scoles texted Malchow with the claim. Scoles repeated the claim again during a scathing public comment at the beginning of the meeting.
It took the City 70 days to produce this text in response to The Comment’s PRR, and even then a heated email exchange occurred between The Comment and the City Clerk’s office. Malchow provided this text to the City the day after the PRR was filed.
Scoles did not offer any evidence, despite claims of seeing Malchow emails to Mullor with executive session information. (Malchow denied all the claims.)
In advance of the council meeting, members received emails from citizens that contained knowledge of the pending vote. However, no such action had been announced. There were about six emails, nearly all with a common thread and many with virtually identical wording. The writers—one of whom was Josh Amato, who was defeated in the November 2 election for City Council– praised Dave Rudat as the best city manager the Sammamish had. Amato was backed by several Facebook groups and individuals close to Stephanie Rudat.
It took the City three months to produce these emails in response to The Comment’s PRR.
The emails had a common theme in attacking Miki Mullor, who filed the complaint against Dave Rudat. Mullor was at the time the editor of The Comment. He has recused himself from writing stories about the Rudat controversy.
The emails criticizing Mullor also had a common theme and often virtually identical language. “I am strongly opposed to any action being taken against our City Manager. No action should be taken without a full public airing of all actions taken behind the scenes, especially of those not holding elected office who has been a driving force of this investigation. The city has been through numerous city managers and absolutely should not lose one of this caliber — whether due to firing or being pushed out — because of the vindictiveness of a resident who must get his way at all costs,” Amato wrote on November 16 in advance of the meeting. Malchow replied, asking how Amato knew of this information since the discussions were only in Executive Session. Amato did not reply.
One, from Cheryl Hooper dated November 17, the day after the Council meeting, said, “It has come to my attention that there are some people on this council being manipulated by an outside influence that no longer resides in this city. It has been explained to me that this person has helped certain council members get elected, and as a result is expecting favors – including requiring certain city staff to be fired.
“I have been unable to verify all of these facts, and I’m only hearing this as rumor.”
(Mullor splits his time between his Sammamish residence and an overseas location.)
None of the emails cited here were reviewed by Kenyon Disend, according to invoices inspected by The Comment. Neither was the Scoles text. However, a Council member who obtained the Scoles text from the City Clerk’s office said that copy showed it had been review by “legal.” The Clerk’s office denied this was the case when queried by The Comment. It is unknown whether the City Attorney reviewed the text or emails, which would not appear on the Disend invoices.
It took the Clerk’s office three months to produce the emails in response to The Comment’s PRR, which was the same PRR for which the Scoles text message was produced.
What is noteworthy is that nothing on the agenda indicated a vote would be taken that night. The agenda only included an item about a complaint concerning a public employee. Only a breach of the executive session discussion could have alerted Scoles and others that a vote was planned that night.
Rudat, City agree to part ways
On March 1, David Rudat and the City agreed to enter into a separation agreement, avoiding a firing and an expected lawsuit. The City agreed to pay Rudat $400,000 and provide Rudat with a letter listing his “accomplishments” in exchange for Rudat releasing the city of all claims. The Scoles narrative that alleged misfeasance of Council members leaking executive session information was cited by The Sammamish Independent as the reason for the settlement agreement.
Without any supporting evidence, The Independent wrote:
“The source also explained why the severance pay might be so high, despite Rudat’s violation of the city’s employee handbook.
“In his contract, the city manager can request a public hearing,” the source said. “If the city had cause to fire him with no severance, then the city should have offered him what’s in his contract. The only reason you wouldn’t do that is if he was demanding a public hearing, and you didn’t want there to be a public hearing.
“To explain why council members might not want a public hearing, the source referenced the public comment from Michael Scoles, a founder of the Sammamish Life PAC, at the Nov. 16 city council meeting. Scoles has been a prolific fundraiser for anti-development candidates across several Sammamish elections, and made the public comment in Rudat’s defense.
“Scoles accused all of the council members serving then of “being guilty of what Dave is being condemned for,” namely disclosing confidential information. He cited his own interactions with Moran, Malchow, Treen, Tom Odell, Chris Ross, and Ken Gamblin, where such information was allegedly shared with him.“
Malchow, Ross, Treen, Gamblin, Odell and Stuart deny they leaked any information then, or at any other time, to Scoles. Moran did not respond to requests for a response issued by The Comment after the story appeared in Sammamish Independent March 6.
Copyright (c) 2022 The Sammamish Comment
Beginning to wonder if the entire City Council is dysfunctional. This could have been handled a lot better, it’s sad it goes to the AG. The Council is accountable to the people.
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