City-YMCA deal was sole-source, no-bid contract, no Requests for Proposals issued

By Scott Hamilton


Sept. 16, 2019: The agreement between Sammamish and the YMCA for the latter to run the community center was the result of a sole-source, no-bid contract.

No Request for Proposals was issued that would compete management of the center.

The contract between Sammamish and the YMCA was a sole-source, no-bid arrangement. No Requests for Proposals were issued. A Sammamish businessman wanted to bid. City of Sammamish photo.

An offer by a Sammamish health club owner to submit a bid that would return 15% of the gross receipts to the city didn’t even get a hearing.

One of the leading advocates throughout the years for the YMCA was a city council member who also sat on the YMCA board, a clear conflict of interest that was ignore by the city administration and a successive series of city councils. (This member was off the council in 2012-13, when the votes were held.)

The YMCA was fundamentally the only entity supported by the city for nearly a decade before a contract was negotiated.

These lie at the roots of the current controversial examination of the city’s management contract with the YMCA that sees the agency siphoning off $1.4m a year to the Greater Seattle YMCA rather than keeping the money in Sammamish or sharing the profits with the city’s general fund.

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Financial statements show Seattle YMCA siphons at least $1.4m annually from Sammamish

SAMM_LocationThe Sammamish Community Center, a $33m facility funded with $28m of  Sammamish taxpayers’ money and operated exclusively by the Y, generated at least $1.4m in surplus that is being sent to Seattle Y, raising questions regarding accounting methods.

The Community Center exceeded all expectations set forth in the city’s original plan.  The city thought the Community Center will attract 1,750 members, with a monthly membership rates for a family at $68.  In reality, more than 5,700 memberships were sold, with monthly membership rates for a family at $138.

The difference is sent to Seattle, although it supposed to stay in Sammamish.

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“Greenwashing” in Sammamish: A Special Report

  1. Greenwashing (a compound word modeled on “whitewash”), or “green sheen,” is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.–Wikipedia.

Since the 2003 Sammamish City Council election, in which environmental-leaning candidates swept the election, the Council prided itself on pursuing “green” policies and ordinances.

The City Manager was far less gun-ho, often lagging his own staff, especially when it came to a concept called Low Impact Development, or LID (not to be confused with Local Improvement Districts, also LID, a special tax option–so context of “LID” is always important to understand).

The current Council is comprised of what would ordinarily considered to be environmentalists. Of the seven, only Member Don Gerend leans “development” over the environment–or so its appears. Tom Odell and Bob Keller proved to have strong environmental credentials. Ramiro Valderrama evolved into a strong backing of the environment. Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay and Mayor Tom Vance not only consider themselves environmentalists but have an historical track record supporting this.

Image via Google Images. Click on image to enlarge.

Without question the leading environmentalist on the Council is three-term incumbent Nancy Whitten, who decided to retire at the end of this year. And Whitten has been increasingly critical of the collective Council’s direction on a number of environmental issues over the past four years.

While “greenwashing” isn’t the term that comes to the top of the conversation with Whitten, she didn’t disagree with its use when it comes to how Sammamish approaches the environment now. And she’s especially critical of Vance’s evolution away from his historical green leanings.

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Community Center already over budget: first estimate

The Sammamish Community Center is already $2 million over budget, according to the first estimate to come into the City.

Voters approved a $30 million project in an advisory vote last November.

The Sammamish Review revealed the overage in its article reporting that Don Gerend will seek another term. The reference is short and it’s buried but it’s there.

Sammamish and “the vision thing”

In 1987, Vice President George H. W. Bush was gearing up to run for president. The Vice President was well known for mangling his syntax (like father, like son, as it turned out) and often had difficulty articulating his thoughts (as we said…).

This inability led to his famous characterization of “the vision thing.”

Sammamish has a Vision Thing problem.

First, it must be acknowledged that governments in general typically lack vision. Out of necessity, days are consumed with simply running things and fixing day-to-day problems. But Sammamish, since its inception, has had trouble with “vision.”

I’ll concede that the City has looked into the future and taken some steps on this or that. But action often becomes years in the making and vision, if it is recognized at all, often becomes inaction.

The greatest example is the Community Center. Consider:

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Here’s more on why a Community Center advisory vote is a bad idea

I previously posted why the idea of a non-binding advisory vote is a bad idea for the Community Center. Here are more reasons.

The non-binding advisory vote only truly “works” if the vote is affirmative. It doesn’t work for a whole host of reasons if the vote is negative.

If the voters reject the Community Center, the City won’t know why. Is it because the voters:

  • Didn’t like the cost, some $30 million?
  • Didn’t like the size–is it too big or too small?
  • Didn’t like the pool–is it too small to offer competitive swimming, or should there be one at all?
  • Don’t know what happens to the staging area for the Fourth of July fireworks, which is where the Community Center is supposed to go–where do the fireworks go when displaced by the Center?
  • Don’t like that 75% of the capital costs are being paid by the City for a facility to be operated by a private entity?
  • Don’t like the very idea of a public-private partnership?
  • Don’t know when the facility will break even? The YMCA at the July 16 meeting doesn’t have a firm projection when the facility will break even. The absence of a firm business plan is, to me, rather alarming.
  • Don’t like competing with the privately-owned Pine Lake Club and Columbia Club?

The City won’t have a clue why this might be rejected.

The voter’s pamphlet language hasn’t been made public yet but presumably this will be an up-or-down, yes-or-no vote. Will the public even have answers to their questions in order to make an informed decision? I consider this highly unlikely, so the citizens will be voting on an “idea,” not a business plan.

As I noted previously, this issue has been studied to death by the City. A Community Center has been talked about since the very first City Council (1999-2001). That’s 12 years, for Pete’s Sake. The City has plenty of information with which to make a decision. The Council should be able to make a decision.

But an advisory vote is a classic move by government to delay action and make no decision. When desiring to avoid a decision, create another committee–or go to the voters.

The election Nov. 6. No action of any kind will likely be taken until 2013–if at all, should the public reject this.

This is a a bad idea from the get-to. This is the City Council avoiding its responsibility. How disappointing.

Now, on to the election and hopefully the issues

With the primary behind us, it’s now on to the general election and the issues facing Sammamish.

Here are the issues that are already apparent for the candidates to address in the general election, in no particular order:

  1. Kick-starting the Town Center. The capital markets still remain very tight for development. How can the city help kick-start the Town Center in the continued challenging economic climate?
  2. The Community Center. The city is proposing a concept that I’ve already labeled the Taj Mahal. I previously compared the proposal to city hall: 2 1/2 times the size at seven times the cost. I got some pushback on the price comparison from one of the council members, who questioned the figure I used for the cost of city hall. Even granting his figure–which I don’t–there is a mismatch. In the most recent newsletter, the city cleverly separated the infrastructure price (some $20 million) from the cost of the building ($44 million), saying the infrastructure (improvements to 228th and a parking garage) would also serve the Town Center. But don’t be fooled: the infrastructure isn’t triggered without the community center, and taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill in a bond vote. But is this the best solution? I’m not sure it is. The YMCA has tried for years to partner with the city to build a community center. This would shave millions of dollars off the cost (and the Y already owns the land, by the way) to taxpayers for a similar concept. I don’t think this option has received due consideration. This ought to be a big topic of debate for the candidates. Continue reading