April 12, 2022: Sammamish Mayor Christie Malchow, who is now the swing vote on the city council, voted on April 5 to block the release of the full investigation of the Rudat ethics investigation to fellow city council members.
Make no mistake: Malchow is now the only vote blocking release of the reports to the public and to her fellow council members. Her’s is the only vote between transparency and continuing the cover-up.
It’s a disappointing evolution of Malchow, who was first elected in 2015 and reelected in 2019. For the first three years in office, Malchow made transparency a hallmark of her service. She skillfully used Facebook to inform Sammamish citizens about events and issues. Malchow was tenacious about the issues she cared about. She was incredibly detail-oriented. At one point, Malchow took a ruler to measure the width of a street shoulder to cross-check staff’s data for traffic concurrency. She proved the staff was using incorrect data.
However, in the next three years through today, Malchow’s presence on Facebook diminished considerably. The target of an obvious campaign of attacks by her opponents and by supporters of former City Manager David Rudat, some of Malchow’s fellow council members say she’s been cowed by these attacks. More disturbing, during the past three years, Malchow announced positions or initiatives that she later backed off from or even flip-flopped over. Most notably, Malchow was a leader in initiating an ethics investigation into Rudat and was known to favor firing him. But when it came to a vote last November, only council members Tom Odell and Pam Stuart voted to do so. Council Member Chris Ross had flipped from favoring firing Rudat to suspending him. Malchow followed suit. Fellow council members said Malchow got cold feet because of an aggressive campaign by Rudat supporters. Others believe Malchow counted the votes and abandoned her position to fire Rudat in favor of suspension. Malchow says she read the investigative report—the same one she blocked from giving to the three new council members—and concluded suspension was warranted instead.
Whatever the story, it is true that Malchow is a careful vote counter and rather than sticking to her principles will instead modify her vote to avoid being on the losing end of some key issues.
In voting to deny Council Members Karen Howe, Amy Lam, and Kali Clark direct access to the large investigative reports, Malchow fell back on another area she often uses to duck an issue: process.
“I voted against it for the reason stated by Council Member [Karen] Moran during the vote: this would be a precedent setting method for attorney-client work product distribution.”
What nonsense. We’ll explain why below.
Malchow added, in a statement to Sammamish Comment, “What I did not verbalize at the vote was I’m trying to look forward, not backward. It is critical this Council be forward thinking for the benefit of our residents and the staff that serve them. We have a new city manager position to fill, staff to provide some stability to, and if we are looking in the rearview mirror constantly, how will we assist ourselves in filling that city manager void and how can we possibly move forward to get city business accomplished for our residents?” Malchow has a habit of falling back on “process” when she wants to dodge an issue. In context with the current controversy, Howe made a motion during the March 15 council meeting to get the unredacted report. Malchow interrupted and noted the meeting was beyond the scheduled ending time. A motion was required to extend the meeting. A motion to do so for a mere 10 minutes. Malchow voted against doing so, thus killing Howe’s motion for the evening. “Process” was used by Malchow to Howe’s motion.
- Overriding public interest demands release of Rudat ethics probe
- Moran, allies wanted to delay Rudat ethics probe for her reelection
- Release full, unredacted Rudat ethics probe report
- Malchow blocks release of Rudat ethics probe report
The Rudat story won’t end until there is full transparency the full facts of what led the City Council to seek to fire or suspend him. Instead of doing either, for the third time, the council paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance pay and a settlement for the departure of the city manager.
In aggregate, city councils have paid out an estimated $700,000-$750,000 in cash compensation and additional funds in continued health care benefits for a transition period for the former city managers.
In Rudat’s case, the council paid out more than Rudat expected to get, according to text messages obtained under the Public Records Act. According to the text messages, the city accepted Rudat’s first (and only) payout proposal. Even Rudat and his attorney were surprised and had to confirm the decision.
Malchow cites “precedent” in voting against a motion by Council Member Howe to have the Rudat ethics investigation made available to all council members for two weeks. Howe, recognizing that the document has been labeled attorney-client privilege, included watermarking the document with the council member’s name and a commitment to return the document at the end of two weeks.
Moran and Council Member Kent Treen said they were against doing so. Both have been against the ethics probe from the very beginning and, in the run-up to the Nov. 2 city council election last fall, made the political decision to persuade the council to delay any vote on disciplinary action until after the election to avoid hurting Moran’s reelection chances. Malchow, the swing vote, sided with them to defeat Howe’s motion on a 3-3 vote. At the time, Malchow did not explain her vote. (After the March 15 vote, Malchow declined to comment on whether Sammamish taxpayers have a right to see the report.)
Overriding Public Interest
As we’ve noted before, there is an overriding public interest to release the 44- and 88-page ethics reports. The costly expenditure of public funds to pay off Rudat is one reason. The cost of the investigations is another. The brazen political purpose by Moran, supported by Treen and Gamblin, to delay action on Rudat until after the November city council election and Moran’s reelection is another. There have been charges that the reports contain information about Moran and Treen so damaging that they will have to resign if it comes out. There have been charges Malchow, Moran, former Council Members Odell, Treen, Gamblin, and Ross all leaked executive session information, one of the complaints against Rudat. For his part, Rudat said the report exonerated him. Moran says information about her in the reports is false.
Releasing the reports is the only way to answer these questions and charges.
Deadlocked at 3-3
The current city council is deadlocked at 3-3 over what to do with the reports. Howe, Clark, and Lam want to be able to read them, not be subjected to outside counsel hand-holding them. This was actually Malchow’s position in an email Nov. 12, in which she wrote, “I’d like to know if there’s any way to either get the summary or have Janie or Kathy physically come to City Hall Tuesday with it. This is a matter where I need to hold and read a document at my own speed & not have it read to me to arrive at a conclusion. How do we make this happen?”
Malchow now is aligned with Moran and Treen, who opposed the investigation from the start. Her explanation for opposing this opportunity for the three new council members simply doesn’t pass the sniff test.
The council has had a vacancy since January when Gamblin resigned. Howe, Lam, and Clark want to appoint former council member Pam Stuart to the seat. Malchow joined with Moran and Treen to vote for anybody but Stuart. Stuart, who voted to fire Rudat as a lame-duck council member, is likely to support releasing the reports to at least the council members. She may well support doing so to the public as well. No doubt, this plays into Malchow’s decision to oppose Stuart for appointment to Gamblin’s seat. Malchow undoubtedly has other reasons to oppose Stuart, but she at various times supported the appointment of an applicant who pled guilty to an incident in which he and friends brought shotguns to a domestic violence situation involving his sister, and who also sought the endorsement of a white supremacist group on behalf of a congressional candidate whose campaign he was managing. This is not the Christie Malchow who was first elected in 2015.
The evolution of Malchow from 2015 to today has been a downward spiral that is now going to be part of her legacy.